Two soloists shine brightly in MOB’s Bach Family get-together

By Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review
November 23, 2016

Music of Johann Sebastian Bach makes up such a massive, ineradicable foundation stone of Baroque programming that it tends to crowd out all works of his offspring. No Bach sons–or non-Bach sons, for that matter–composed on the same rarefied level, but the best of their music merits more regular revival.

Kudos to Jane Glover and Music of the Baroque for timely excavation work for the lesser-known brood members with their Bach family concert heard Tuesday night at the Harris Theater. Glover’s informed and user-friendly introduction set the context for a nicely varied program that provided turns in the solo spotlight for two MOB principals.

The eldest of the Bach progeny, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was represented with his Adagio and Fugue for Two Flutes and Strings (aka the Sinfonia in D minor). W.F. enjoyed the least career success of his brothers and it’s not entirely difficult to see why, as this uneven work shows that the apple can bounce several yards from the tree. Flutists Alyce Johnson and Mary Stolper were the polished and admirable soloists, sustaining their tone securely in Glover’s stately tempo for the opening section. The soloists and conductor made the best case for the work, even with its abrupt transition and lumbering closing fugue.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Flute Concerto in B flat offered a more congenial solo opportunity for Stolper, longtime MOB principal flute. The work was transcribed by the composer’s patron, the Prussian royal and amateur musician Frederick II, who was clearly no mean flutist himself.

C.P.E. was the Peck’s Bad Boy of the Bach progeny and–even though retooled by a different hand–the concerto is fully characteristic of the composer in its abrupt tempo gearshifts, subversive modulations, and harmonic curveballs. Stolper proved a wonderful solo protagonist, bringing consistently elegant and gracious playing to this quirky work, plaintive expression to the slow movement and fleet vivacity in the finale.

The celebrated Bach paterfamlias was represented with two works. Glover led off with a rarity, the opening Sinfonia from Johann Sebastian’s Cantata No. 42. The music is typical in its seamless craft and buoyant melody, and Glover led a vital performance with notably nimble contributions from the standing pair of oboes and bassoon.

Gina DiBello began her tenure as Music of the Baroque’s new concertmaster this season and made her MOB solo debut in J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No 2 in E major. 

A member of the CSO first violin section since 2013, DiBello delivered distinctive Bach playing that was a model of taste, pure tone and refined expression. In the opening Allegro her playing was vigorous, technically immaculate and individual, exploring a rare degree of dynamic nuance.

DiBello brought searching emotional depth to the Adagio, playing with great sensitivity and glowing intimacy. Taken at a quickish tempo, the final movement was vivacious and energetic without sacrificing tonal elegance. DiBello’s idiomatic Baroque playing bodes well for her tenure as MOB’s new string leader. Glover and the ensemble lent wholly sympathetic, close-knit work.

The evening closed with music by Johann Christian Bach, the youngest of the clan, and a mentor to the child Mozart. As Glover noted, J.C. Bach (1735-1782) forms an important historic bridge in the rather fallow period between the death of his father and the onset of Haydn and Mozart.

It’s not too hard to find J.C.’s influence on the young Mozart with the driving, turbulent opening of his Symphony in G minor almost sounding like a pre-echo of Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in the same key, written a few years later.

This is an extraordinary work, and Glover led the orchestra in a dramatic and roiling performance. The restless string lines, jabbing accents and glowering horns of the opening movement were punched out with forceful impact, and the Andante offers little respite, surveying a decidedly bleak landscape for its period. The finale was equally intense, Glover underlining the music’s nerve-wracked agitation before the surprising throwaway coda.

Music of the Baroque presents its Holiday Brass and Choral program 8 p.m. December 15 at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest; 8 p.m. December 16 at St. Michael’s Church; and 3 p.m. December 18 and 19 at Divine Word Chapel in Northbrook.