Review: Handel, Hadyn, a Little Mozart Propel Music of the Baroque’s London Calling Concert

By Bob Benenson, Third Coast Review
March 01, 2023

Music of the Baroque’s enjoyable London Calling concert was performed at the Harris Theater on February 27 after opening the previous night at Skokie’s North Shore Center for Performing Arts. The program, conducted by Nicholas Kraemer, focused on four composers who lived in London for at least periods of time in 1700s.

There was Symphony No. 5 in D Major by William Boyce, a popular figure at the time who faded over the years into relative obscurity.

There was the legendary and familiar Water Music Suite No. 1 in F Major by George Frideric Handel, and Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 in D Major, also known as The Clock Symphony.

And there was Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—which he wrote in 1764, when he was eight years old.

Mozart was truly history’s supreme prodigy, greatly exceeding the others in classical music’s pantheon at childhood composing of important music. Of course, Mozart produced much greater music over the 27 years before his very untimely death, but the opening of the piece has a clear Mozartian sound. It is a short piece, three movements and about 14 minutes in length, yet major orchestras are still playing what amounts to a child’s homework assignment almost 300 years later.

As to why the Austrian youth was living in London at the time, his father, Leopold Mozart, had taken Wolfgang, his musically talented sister Nannerl, and his wife Anna Maria on a grand tour of Europe, which included a 15-month residency in London.

The Mozart piece opened the second half of the concert, which began with the piece by Boyce. According to the program notes, the composer specialized in shorter pieces and never wrote a symphony with intent. Rather, he collected some of his earlier works and stitched them together as symphonies—possibly to seize the moment after the death of Handel, who had overshadowed him.

Boyce’s Symphony No. 5 in D Major, like Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, is in three movements and quite short. One unique feature is that there is no slow movement: It opens with an allegro movement, then concludes with two dance movements (Tempo di gavotte and Tempo di minuetto).

The Music of the Baroque ensemble for this concert had fewer strings than usual, which enabled wind and brass instruments to be positioned closer to the front. This worked to especially good effect in Water Music Suite No. 1, one of Handel’s masterpieces, with two French horns (played by Jonathan Boen and Matthew Oliphant) and two oboists (Erica Anderson and Adèle-Marie Buis) playing key roles throughout the piece’s many movements.

It was also noticeable that Kraemer, who often plays harpsichord while leading the orchestra as principal guest conductor, did not during this concert, with ensemble member Stephen Alltop at the keyboard. Kraemer conducted the entire concert without a score and podium, which enabled him to exhibit his energetic, lean-in conducting style.

Following the Mozart symphony, the concert concluded with Haydn’s Symphony No. 101. Haydn did not get to write more than 100 symphonies if he hadn’t been a crowd-pleaser, and this work, performed with Music of the Baroque’s usual aplomb, was no exception. Even the Andante second movement was more upbeat than in many classical compositions, with bassoons and other instruments performing the ticking sounds that give the piece its Clock Symphony name.

The concert also featured solos by Mary Stolper, one of our classical community’s premier flutists.

By the way, the concert’s London Calling title refers to the 1979 song of that name by the legendary punk rock group The Clash. Music of the Baroque is one classical ensemble that can’t be accused of being stuck in the past.

Next up for Music of the Baroque is Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the highlight of the orchestra’s 2022-23 season. The piece will be performed on Sunday, April 2, at 7:30pm at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (click here to sign up for the wait list for this sold-out concert) and Monday, April 3, at 7:30pm at Harris Theater (click here for tickets priced at $25-$100).

Music of the Baroque has also released its 2023-24 schedule. Highlights include the Mozart Requiem (the season opener on September 17 and 18), the Holiday Brass & Choral Concerts (December 14-17 in four area churches) and Bach’s The St. John Passion on March 10 and 11, 2024. Click here to access the full schedule.