Glover leads MOB’s ‘St. John Passion’

By John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
March 27, 2018

It would not be Lenten season in Chicago without a performance of one of the towering Passion settings of J.S. Bach.

With conductor John Nelson’s Chicago Bach Project silent this year, Jane Glover and her Music of the Baroque orchestra and chorus filled the breach with a glowing performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion” on Palm Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. A second performance was given Monday night at the Harris Theater in downtown Chicago.

Bach’s gripping narrative of Christ’s Passion and death gained a welcome intimacy by virtue of Glover’s employing a 26-voice chorus (prepared by William Jon Gray) and chamber orchestra of equal size. Set within the whole was a stylish continuo group consisting of Craig Trompeter, cello and viola da gamba; Michael Beattie, organ; and Daniel Swenberg, theorbo.

The choir was small enough to ensure clear projection of the German text in its various guises as rabble, soldiers and priests (the chorus “Christus, der uns selig macht” was wonderfully light on its rhythmic feet), yet full enough to give weight to the Lutheran chorales that reflect on each turn of event.

Glover brought out the dramatic aspect through propulsive pacing up through the Crucifixion, relaxing her control and softening the dynamics for the later pages of grieving and spiritual consolation. In the stylish tenor Thomas Cooley she had an ideal Evangelist, firm of voice and commanding of expression. So intensely did he penetrate the long and demanding narration that the familiar saga took on the urgency of on-site reportage.

MOB regulars Yulia Van Doren, soprano, and Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano, also sang sensitively in their solo arias, particularly Bragle with her affecting “Est ist vollbracht” (“It is finished”), accompanied by Trompeter’s florid gamba obbligato. Bass Michael Sumuel, new to the guest roster, made a powerful and eloquent Jesus. Pilate’s pronouncements were strongly taken by bass Kevin Keys.