Kraemer, Music of the Baroque bring stylish vivacity to populist Bach

While Bach’s sacred masterworks have always received their due from Music of the Baroque—the Mass in B minor will be heard next April—the ensemble has lately been working its way through his secular concert works as well.

Sunday night at First United Methodist Church in Evanston, Nicholas Kraemer conducted Music of the Baroque in a nicely varied selection of Bach in his most populist mode, with two of the orchestral suites, the Double Concerto for Two Violins and the “Wedding” Cantata.

Bach’s larger choral works are routinely handled by music director Jane Glover, yet, as he showed once again Sunday night, Kraemer has his own engaging and distinctive Bach style. Tempos were brisk yet never breathless with rhythms firmly pointed within flexible phrasing, Bach’s melodies invested with an enviable swing.

The two suites came off especially well. In the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, principal flutist Mary Stolper was, somewhat oddly, placed stage front as if a concerto soloist. As one might expect, the MOB stalwart provided superb advocacy of the prominent solo flute part with graceful understated bravura, cutting loose with a notably spirited Badinerie. Kraemer pointed the dance rhythms delightfully throughout with a stately Menuet and the Sarabande lyrical without dragging.

The Suite No. 3 in the celebratory key of D major is a more festive and exuberant work with its addition of three trumpets and timpani. Kraemer’s Bachian bona fides were displayed to even greater advantage here with the English conductor drawing playing of immense vivacity and panache from the ensemble. Violin playing was especially dazzling in the quick main theme of the opening Overture. The celebrated Air was refined and flowing, effectively scraping off accumulated Victorian sentimentality. Kraemer also directed a bracingly snappy Gavotte and the three trumpets (Barbara Butler, Tage Larsen, and Channing Philbrick) lent clarion gleam to the closing Gigue.

The two concertante works provided more mixed rewards.

Concertmaster Robert Waters and principal second violinist Sharon Polifrone proved admirable colleagues in a worthy reading of Bach’s Double Concerto. At times Polifrone’s playing could have been more boldly projected for a better balanced partnership alongside Waters’ stylish solo work. The finale went best, with Kraemer setting a daunting clip from the harpsichord that made for more of a fizzing bravura closer than usual.

Bach left us no operas but his secular cantatas give some idea of what to expect had he ventured into that realm.

The “Wedding” cantata (No. 202) like Bach’s other non-sacred works in the genre, show him at his most relaxed and convivial. Written to celebrate an unknown marriage, the cheerful work is set for solo soprano to a poetic text that, rather quaintly, tells of the joys of matrimonial love and connubial
bliss.

Julia Doyle showed herself a flexible and expressive soloist, clearly responsive to the text. Yet her soprano is decidedly shallow and monochrome and tends to fade away in the lower register, which made for a vocally unevenouting at best. To a large extent she was outshone by the stylish playing of the ensemble under Kraemer, especially the personality-plus obbligato contributions of oboist Robert Morgan, bassoonist William Buchman and concertmaster Waters.