Patronage rules in Music of the Baroque program
January 26, 2016
A pun on patronage provided the title of Music of the Baroque’s program on Monday night, which was performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The concert was in part a tribute to Laura Campbell Rhind, a venerable Chicago patron of the arts who passed away in March of last year.
The resulting “Musical Patrons” program consisted of music written by Mozart, Handel, J.S. Bach, and Haydn at the behest of their patrons: Sigmund Haffner the Younger, King George I, Christian Ludwig, and Nicholas Esterházy, respectively.
Throughout most of the concert, Music of the Baroque played with a certain reserve. Accents were muffled; rhythms suffered a shortage of spring. At times, conductor Jane Glover and the orchestra made the music work without these elements, by projecting elegance rather than energy. But at times, this absence was marked.
Their performance of Mozart’s “Haffner” symphony (No. 35) was a mixed bag for exactly this reason. The opening fanfares lacked boldness and the dotted figures didn’t strut enough. In the second movement, the orchestra’s relaxed approach lent the music tranquility and grace. The finale too was a success. Glover set a sprightly tempo and instigated many instances of pointed articulation that projected an air of playfulness.
In her opening remarks, Glover suggested that one can distinguish the movements of Handel’s Water Music that were meant to be played outdoors from those meant for indoors. But the performance of the piece was consistently indoorsey: intimate and smooth, never boisterous.
The orchestra was let down somewhat by its oboes. Principal first and second violins Robert Waters and Sharon Polifrone began the Allegro of the overture with much verve, only for the winds to drag the tempo when they entered.
The best movements of the piece—and indeed of the entire first half of the program—were those that featured the horns, played by Gail Williams and Stephanie Blaha on natural horns rather than modern valve instruments. They gave a vitality to the outer sections of the celebrated Allegro and a swagger to the minuet that had been missing from the concert thus far.
The horns were also the highlight of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1. This time the players were Jonathan Boen and Robert Johnson, and the horns were valved rather than natural. Perhaps partly because of the nature of the instruments themselves, their playing was mellower than that of Williams and Blaha. But they still gave the third-movement Allegro the pomp and bustle that it needed in order to come off.
Also excellent was Robert Waters’ solo in the Adagio of the concerto, which he played with great tenderness, exploiting the plangent qualities of its chromatic twists and turns.
All of the best qualities of the earlier performances and none of the worst merged in the rendition of Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony (No 45) with which Glover and the orchestra ended the evening.
They did justice to the Sturm und Drang atmosphere of the first movement by digging into accents for the first time. In the minuet, they understood how to underline the darkness of the shocking stabs of minor subdominant that pierce the otherwise placid movement.
In closing the concert, Glover and the orchestra milked the comic potential of the Haydn’s celebrated gimmick in the finale of the players gradually leaving the stage. Their theatrical exits elicited much genuine laughter from the audience, without shortchanging the fundamental musical qualities of the movement.