The Canadian baroque orchestra known as Tafelmusik has perfected an approach that has tempted many early-music organizations but rewarded only a few with such a high degree of success. Their performances are composed of multiple layers — music first and foremost, but also narration, projected images, and a dense weave of natural, historical, and cultural background information — all intended to carry the audience deeper into the experience.
Last seen hereabouts with its impressive musical version of Galileo’s cosmos, Tafelmusik’s latest production, House of Dreams, uses the framing device of journeying through five distinguished houses of the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the era of Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach, all of whom were exceedingly well-represented on the program. But, as House of Dreams made clear, it was also the original age of appreciation and dissemination for some great visual art, with images from such figures as Watteau, Rembrandt, Canaletto, and Vermeer adding to the experience of visiting these extraordinary spaces.
Part of the excitement in these performances comes from hearing unusual instruments played with precision and in the appropriate manner. Oboists John Abberger and Marco Cera were particularly noticeable in this regard, as the baroque oboe, with its three keys and recorder-like stops, is one of the reasons that this music sounds so interesting and fresh when played in a period style.
Each of Music Director Jeanne Lamon’s players has something captivating to offer. Lucas Harris, for example, added splendid parts throughout the evening on the lute and was particularly compelling on the Largo from Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major for Lute, RV 93. Blair Williams, the group’s narrator, had a grand time dispensing context along with odd bits of historical knowledge, thus bringing the world in which this music was created much closer than in an ordinary concert. The Fifth House, in Leipzig, had the good fortune to belong to the wealthy family who lived next door to the young Johann Sebastian Bach, and the selections from that composer were exquisite and elegantly rendered with great feeling and tone.