Glover, MOB serve up spirited Mozart and Haydn

By Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical review
March 31, 2015

There was no Baroque music on Music of the Baroque’s program Monday at the Harris Theater, something that continues to rankle some local auditors.

Yet MOB’s recently announced 2015-16 season is its most, well, Baroque in years, including an evening of Purcell, and Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers as well as Handel’s infrequently heard oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. Against that promising, return-to-roots future, one could enjoy Monday’s Classical-Romantic lineup on its own terms with symphonies by Mozart and Haydn framing an early Beethoven concerto.

Mozart wrote his “Paris” symphony (No. 31) on a musically productive but ill-fated trip with his mother to France. Just two weeks after his new symphony was premiered to great acclaim, his mother suddenly passed away. Yet there’s little foreboding tragedy in this ebullient work scored for large forces, as the French audiences preferred.

Jane Glover led a bright and vital performance, generous with repeats, with energetic playing in the outer movements spiced by clarion trumpet contributions from Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer. MOB’s music director opted for the original Andante, and made a strong case for its extended modulations, though she might have relaxed the grip just a bit at times. The whirling finale made a high-energy closer.

Imogen Cooper has been a regular collaborator with Glover and Music of the Baroque and returned Monday for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The first of the composer’s five works in the genre chronologically, the Second is the most Mozartian, with a playful lightness and spirit.

Cooper’s playing was technically assured, the British pianist performing with big-boned strength and a forthright approach, finding a more nuanced drama in the first movement cadenza.

What was less apparent was the music’s light charm and esprit. There was little rapt intimacy in the Adagio, with Cooper’s touch too loud and monochrome, unaided by a pingy, over-bright Steinway. The finale with its off-the-beat accents went better, though here too the brusque, aggressive energy felt more suited to later Beethoven than this early work.

Haydn’s music may be neglected elsewhere in Chicago, but Music of the Baroque, fortunately, continues to hold the banner aloft. Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 is one of the composer’s most delightful works, getting its title “Drumroll” from the timpani crescendo that frames the opening movement.

Glover and company were fully in the Haydn zone for this performance, the conductor molding burnished cellos and basses in the deceptively somber slow introduction before the breakout of the buoyant Allegro, dynamics alertly marked throughout.

The performance was especially inspired in the bipartite Andante, with Glover fluently charting the progression from the tragic opening section to the lighter Allegretto. The various episodes were deftly characterized, with guest concertmaster Nurit Pacht showing fine panache in the flashy concertante middle section for violin.

Apart from the trumpets blaring over the opening chords, the finale was terrific. Glover consistently brought out Haydn’s ingenuity and wit, marking the hairpin dynamic contrasts while putting across the music with spirited exuberance.