MOB's Christmas Oratorio

By John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
December 02, 2014

While performances of Handel's "Messiah" pop up like sidewalk Santas every year at this time, renditions of J.S. Bach's masterful "Christmas Oratorio" are few and far between. All the more reason to be grateful for the festive and dedicated account Jane Glover led with her Music of the Baroque chorus, orchestra and soloists Sunday at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

Given that the six cantatas that make up the "Christmas Oratorio" were written to be performed at separate church services in Leipzig between Christmas and Epiphany, one wonders what old Johann Sebastian would have thought of their being performed together.

In any case, I managed to catch the first three sections and came away impressed with Glover's firm pacing, her judicious balancing of the 26-voice chorus against the instrumental body of 35 players, and the beguiling lift she brought to the rhythms. Director William Jon Gray's chorus brought a manifest sense of rejoicing to everything it sang, its diction crisp and precise no matter how brisk the tempos.

That dry auditorium acoustics assisted Glover in articulating rhythm and phrasing and aerating the textures of her clean, responsive orchestra. Tenor Paul Agnew, as the Evangelist, narrated the Christmas story with a proper feeling of awe and wonder, heading an excellent solo quartet of MOB stalwarts — soprano Yulia Van Doren, mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabo and baritone Roderick Williams.

There were in addition fine obbligato solos from Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer, trumpets; Mary Stolper, flute; Robert Morgan and Peggy Michel, oboes; and Robert Walters, violin. As a prelude to the local Christmas celebration in classical music, this concert (repeated Monday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance) was a most welcome gift.