Music of the Baroque Chorus takes the spotlight at Harris Theater

By Tim Sawyier, Chicago Classical Review
March 28, 2017

The Music of the Baroque Chorus was in the spotlight Monday night at the Harris Theater in a program entitled “Glorious Chorus—Bach & Vivaldi.” Chorus director William Jon Gray led the MOB singers and instrumentalists in a spirited performance of uplifting 18th-century fare.

A major work from one of the headline composers constituted the bulk of each half. Before intermission the audience heard a stirring performance of Vivaldi’s Magnificat in G Minor, RV 610a. The MOB Chorus and Orchestra were rock solid in the expansive opening “Magnificat anima mea.” In the ensuing “Et exsultavit spiritus meus” the vocal soloists, drawn from the chorus ranks, shone brightly. Soprano Shannon Love had a pure bell-like timbre, mezzo Amanda Koopman sang with a robust tone that was clear in all registers, and Ryan Townsend Strand displayed an attractive nimble tenor.

The “Fecit potentiam” was thrillingly propulsive and the “Deposuit potentes” saw exceptional diction from the entire ensemble. Love and Koopman made an angelic pair in the duet “Esurientes implevit bonis,” and were joined by bass Keven Keys in a fervent “Sicut locutus est.” The whole ensemble punctuated the performance with an emphatic delivery of the closing “Gloria Patri et Filio.” 

Bach’s Mass in F Major, BWV 233, concluded the evening. While the MOB Chorus and Orchestra continued to fire on all cylinders throughout this rarely heard work, a major highlight was the horn playing of principal Robert Johnson in the “Gloria.” The movement’s high-lying passagework came off effortlessly in his flawless execution, which was unwaveringly supported by second horn Samuel Hamzem.

Bass soloist Keys intoned the “Domine Deus” with resonance. Love leant her vocal sheen to the “Qui tollis” to great effect, and was supported by a sensitive obbligato from oboist Judith Kulb. Koopman’s “Quoniam” had a rich, earthy quality, which was enhanced by concertmaster Kathleen Brauer’s elegant filigree. The outer movements for full chorus were brought to life with ideal balance and judicious phrasing throughout. 

Smaller works rounded out the program. The evening opened with Bach’s motet “Komm, Jesu, komm,” BWV 229, which was exquisite. Gray deftly handled the work’s episodic progression, and the chorus sang with a luster it would maintain throughout the evening. Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus à 8 preceded the Bach mass. This work begins with low men’s voices, in the depths both vocally and emotionally. From there its counterpoint churns hypnotically, the sorrowful expression fully manifest in this rendition.

Two contrasting concerti grossi provided lighter material. Albinoni’s Concerto à cinque in B-flat Major, Op. 10, No. 1 had typically buoyant, fast outer movements. There were isolated moments of dubious intonation from the busy violin sections, but they sang the melody of the central Adagio with limber tenderness. 

Vivaldi’s Concerto grosso in G Minor, RV 578 opened with a dramatic Adagio e spiccato that had a breathless, inexorable quality. The two Allegro movements featured agile solo violin turns from Brauer and principal second Sharon Polifrone, and the Largetto received graceful treatment. Throughout the evening principal cellist Barbara Haffner, bassist Collins Trier, and keyboardist Stephen Alltop provided solid continuo support.