The Galileo Project
New and imaginative ways of programming Baroque repertoire that was never intended for the modern concert or CD formats are always welcome and Tafelmusik have found a corker here. Inspired by the 400th anniversary of Galileo first using his telescope, the Canadian orchestra’s double-bassist Alison McKay has devised an hour-long ‘Harmony of the Spheres’ sequence which unpretentiously harnesses music by several Baroque greats with readings from Shakespeare, Ovid, Kepler and Galileo, and descriptions of Isaac Newton and the opulent Festival of the Planets mounted for a Dresden royal wedding in 1719. The whole is given in front of a suspended circle on to which astronomical images are projected, and the performers move around on a similarly patterned floor, playing from memory, intermingling and reforming (almost everyone gets a solo) amid changing lighting effects. The fascination of this for general viewers is in a resonant linking of the preoccupations and of 17th- and 18th-century music and culture with the radical scientific discoveries of the time, while for lovers of Baroque music there is a simpler joy in hearing familiar music in new contexts and orderings, and fun in waiting to hear what comes next.
Further pleasure comes from the playing of Tafelmusik, an uplifting mixture as ever of ensemble excellence and open generosity of spirit. Shaun Smyth’s readings are clear and committed, though British viewers will wince at the ‘English’ accent (half Doncaster, half Dundee?) that he concocts for the Newton section. The music is pre-recorded but not so obviously as to prevent visual suspension of belief, even when you have realised that such a mobile performance (matched by the camera angles and video editing) could hardly have allowed so good a balance. This must have made a great show live – it has already toured to China, Australasia and Central America – and it makes a pretty enjoyable DVD. A CD version, without readings, is also included.