Unlike many issues from this ensemble, this is not a reissue of the orchestra's work on Sony Classical. Rather, this 2012 disc is taken from live concerts that must have been fabulous. These fresh, vigorous, and exciting performances are less "period" instrument and more "pure music". In other words, you get the impression that these musicians aren't making a point as much as they are just having fun, and that's something to cheer about.
The Mendelssohn has proven to work on period instruments before, but this is easily the finest version out there for my money. The music is swift and urgent, yet never once lacking for warmth and charm. Ensemble sounds lovely, with some delicious winds and real sparkle in the outer movements. Weil gives the music genuine shape; nothing is ever mechanical and better yet, there's a real sense of character and humanity in each note. Even the inner movements, which – let's face it – can sound mechanical even on modern instruments, take on an ebb and flow that is entirely welcome. And the finale is enormously rewarding, woodwinds dance and strings slash away. It's just marvelous.
The Beethoven is another exceptional performance. The best "period" Beethoven is that which balances the thrills of faster speeds with tonal appeal. The Tafelmusik players understand this, and so does Bruno Weil, who has always done fine Beethoven in his career. The first movement sings as well as thrills, and there isn't a single bar that feels rushed or turns ugly. There's genuine tension too; I can't remember the last time I felt chills with this music. The second movement march retains these qualities; I love the low strings, and the woodwinds are again incredible. The third movement is a real dance, and is taken at a near ideal tempo, not too fast or too slow. Once again, the finale is superb, the final coda remains thrilling without trying to break any speed records. The playing is just so fine overall, and the tension so effortlessly sustained, that coupled with such a great account of the Mendelssohn, you may wonder why anyone else plays the music any other way. Bravo!
Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman