Tales of Two Cities is an enchanting musical journey through the palatial worlds of two prominent 18th-century cities – Leipzig and Damascus. Although separated by 3,000 kilometres, these cities shared a surprising number of common threads; both were located at the intersections of major trade and travelling routes, both were known as cultural and learning centres, and both nurtured a tradition of coffee houses in which music performances were flowing. Cleverly conceived, programmed and scripted by the creative mind of Tafelmusik’s own Alison Mackay, and narrated by the charming Alon Nashman, Tales of Two Cities comes as a DVD/CD combo, featuring the music portion of the concert on CD. The DVD includes a filmed live performance at the Aga Khan Museum, a video on restoration of the Dresden Damascus Room, behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsals and a split-screen video of the orchestra performing Bach’s Sinfonia.
I absolutely loved Tales of Two Cities. The inventive combination of music and literary selections coupled with stunning images and historically informed narration was only transcended by the excellence of all the musicians involved. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra presents a fresh, vibrant, theatrical interpretation of music by Telemann, Handel and Bach (all onetime residents of the city of Leipzig). The virtuosity of Dominic Teresi (bassoon), Patrick Jordan (viola) and Aisslinn Nosky (violin) is just as entertaining as it is admirable. Trio Arabica, featuring Maryem Tollar (voice, quanun), Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion) and Demetri Petsalakis (oud), evokes the longing, beauty and delicacy of Damascus of the past with gorgeous performances of the traditional melodies. The final number, an intriguing combination of Telemann and traditional Arabic music, unites all the performers and brings the narrative to a conclusion by telling the story of young, present-day Syrian scholars working alongside German mentors on restoring the Damascus Room in Dresden. Highly recommended.