Kraemer, Music of the Baroque wrap season with game of threes

By Tim Sawyier, Chicago Classical Review
May 14, 2018

Nicholas Kraemer’s November program with Music of the Baroque featured Baroque double concertos and was entitled “Two’s Company”; so, of course, his second program—the last of MOB’s season—was dubbed “Three’s a Crowd.”

The concert, offered Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, played with different manifestations of “threes” in music of Bach and Telemann. While this theme was by Kraemer’s own admission pretty tenuous, the performances were largely accomplished and brought the MOB season to a gratifying conclusion.

The first work on the program was Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048. The Third Brandenburg calls for three groups of three string soloists, and its music is so ubiquitous it can be easy to forget what a remarkable score it is.

Sunday’s performance provided an excellent reminder. With Kraemer leading from the harpsichord and the six upper string soloists all standing, the performance amply projected the vitality of Bach’s infectious score. Concertmaster Gina DiBello was first among equals, offering refined solo playing throughout. In place of the concerto’s two-chord Adagio, she and Kraemer offered a slow movement from one of the Bach Violin Sonatas, which made for a more satisfying transition between the bustling outer movements.

Telemann’s Quartet in G Major from his Tafelmusik followed, and while the performance in fact entailed five players—violin, flute, and oboe, with bassoon and harpsichord as continuo—the “three” referred to the solo treble parts. Here as throughout the afternoon bassoonist Bill Buchman’s grounding continuo was immaculately poised. The soloists—DiBello, flutist Mary Stolper, and oboist Anne Bach—delivered much beguiling Baroque playing, though the trio somewhat stiff in the effervescent closing Vivace.

The first half closed with Bach’s Concerto for Flute, Violin, and Harpsichord, BWV 1044, which proved the least successful performance of the afternoon. The harpsichord dominates throughout the work, but soloist Jory Vinikour was often inexact almost to the point of clumsiness, and Bach’s inexorable textures in the outer movements just do not allow for that kind of imprecision. Fellow soloists DiBello and Stolper made the most out of their supporting roles, playing with supple tones in the central Adagio.

Following intermission Telemann’s Concerto for Three Oboes, Three Violins, and Continuo was on offer. Like the composer’s concertos generally, this work is jolly yet superficial, pleasant enough and unchallenging to take in. Principal oboist Anne Bach provided some nifty passagework in the closing Allegro, though violinist Kevin Case—taking the lead for this piece presumably to give DiBello a breather—was below the standard of the afternoon’s other soloists.

The concert concluded with Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWN 1069. The triune element here was the three groups of instruments that play as distinct ensembles within Bach’s score: oboes, strings, and trumpets/timpani. The seating was arranged to underscore this, with the strings all on stage left, oboes stage right, with trumpet and timpani behind. This arrangement produced an engaging antiphonal effect that Kraemer’s leadership subtly highlighted.

The opening section of the Overture felt expansive and rich, and its faster triplet section went with buoyant élan. The ensuing dances had the requisite Terpsichorean charm, and the closing Réjouissance brought the afternoon to an emphatic close, adorned with stylish trumpet playing from Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer.