Music of the Baroque ended its season with style

By Alan G. Artner, Chicago Tribune
May 18, 2015

Music of the Baroque ended its season at Evanston's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall Sunday night with choral compositions that gave the evening's theme of war and peace.

As has happened frequently in recent seasons, the most substantial work, Franz Joseph Haydn's "Mass in Time of War," lay outside the repertory to which MOB is supposed to be devoted.

But music director Jane Glover's affinity for scores from the Classical period made the Haydn most stirring, and the Baroque piece, George Frideric Handel's Te Deum for the Victory of Dettingen, had a generous amount of richness and splendor.

Written under different conditions 50 years apart, the two nonetheless share in a good deal of joyous and devotional sentiment. The exuberance found in the Handel is, however, tempered by lyrical sweetness as well as hints of the ominous (in a famous part for tympani) in the Haydn. Glover's care in bringing out such difference made for a satisfying pairing.

Sterling throughout was William Jon Gray's chorus, which sang with clear, precise diction both loud and soft. Pick-Staiger's acoustic allows a true pianissimo only with effort, and in the Haydn the chorus of 28 repeatedly achieved it, conveying moments of inwardness that in the adagios of the Gloria and Credo gave touching repose amid the ardor.

The orchestra, too – 27 players in the Handel, 32 in the Haydn – responded spiritedly to the added color of the later Viennese version of Haydn's score. Once trumpets warmed in the Handel, there was an amply ceremonial manner that, again, moved inward, culminating in an unusually sensitive interplay between cello, flute, baritone soloist and chorus in the middle of Haydn's Gloria.

Extended solos in both scores were for baritone, which Roderick Williams characterized with winning serenity. An absence of soft singing and floating tone, exacerbated by the hall's brightness, made Sarah Gartshore's soprano sound too much under pressure. Zach Finkelstein, tenor, and Kathryn Leemhuis, mezzo-soprano, achieved a fine blend with the others. In the Handel, countertenor Ryan Belongie made the most of brief contributions despite initial inaudibility.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago; $27-$75. 312-551-1414.

Alan Artner is a freelance critic.