DVD Review: Many reasons to be over the moon for Tafelmusik’s Galileo Project


Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra has just departed for its first tour of Australia and New Zealand, presenting its 2009 multimedia creation, The Galileo Project, at 11 concerts. This also happens to be the first DVD release on its new music label, Tafelmusik Media.

The first Toronto performance of Galileo bowled over its audience — myself included — for the vibrancy of the musicmaking, neat choreography, the gorgeous images projected on a big, circular screen, as well as the carefully chosen texts that provided maximum historical context and personal colour on the origins of our understanding of the planets and their courses with a minimum of words.

(Earlier this month, the orchestra proved that double-bass player Alison Mackay’s creative genius behind this show was no fluke, as it launched a new multimedia programme, House of Dreams. This one focused on great European houses with ties to great European music.)

Most notable about these shows is how they offer up the Greatest Hits of the Baroque era alongside less well-known fare in a format that gives the first-time audience member a variety of entry points into the music and its context. The presentation is also able to offer the knowledgeable and committed listener possibilities for all kinds of new insights.

This is a remarkable feat.

The fact that Tafelmusik performs the music so vibrantly — all played from memory — makes this even more of a treasure.

The DVD release for Galileo is the full programme, which includes narration by actor Shaun Smyth. The fast-moving camera lens finds a decent balance between close-ups and wider views, always highlighting the associated images, as well. Marshall Pynkoski’s choreography, so clear when seen live from the audience’s perspective, loses a bit of its larger sense of order and pattern in the process, but it’s no big deal.

The DVD includes two Baroque music videos, one featuring bits of Rameau and Handel on a pop-up-book set of the palace of Versailles, and the other a galactic-clockwork fantasy containing a Chaconne from Lully’s Phaeton.

This album throws in an hour-long, music-only CD of the Galileo Project. A companion booklet offers comprehensive notes.

My only real complaint is that the video was not shot in high-definition, making for a grainy view on a large-screen TV. It’s in stark contrast to the live show, dominated by the dazzling, high-definition images from space.

That said, there are many repeatable hours of listening and viewing pleasure here.

Here’s a teaser video from The Galileo Project, featuring Lucas Harris in the “Allegro” from a lute concerto by Silvius Leopold Weiss:

John Terauds

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