Trumpeter Balsom’s Haydn steals the show at Mozart birthday party

By Landon Hegedus, Chicago Classical Review
January 26, 2020

Continuing its annual tradition of celebrating the music of Mozart on the occasion of his birthday each January, Music of the Baroque and music director Jane Glover served up a crowd-pleasing program on Saturday night at the Harris Theater.

Bookending the program were symphonies that told a tale of two cities: Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz), which was famously composed in a matter of days on the occasion of the composer’s visit to that Austrian burg; and Symphony No. 38 (Prague), premiered in and dedicated to the city known for harboring one of his most loyal fan bases.

A quintessential Mozartean, Glover remains unimpeachable in this domain. Her reading of the Linz Symphony was especially of note: lean and spirited, yet brilliantly balancing the drama and refinement that inherently coexist in the score. The Andante, in particular, left little to be desired. Glover’s sensitivity for ensemble texture kept the siciliano buoyant despite the ballast of the winds and timpani, and her careful control of the dynamics illuminated clever variations in each statement of the amiable melody. Even the third-movement Menuetto – often overlooked on account of its brevity and apparent coarseness – was delivered an unusual tenderness and charm.

Prague, despite its somewhat more portly disposition, was similarly deft. Composed in the same year as his expansive Piano Concerto No. 25, Mozart’s No. 38 similarly draws upon the robust symphonic forces that would characterize his later work. Still, Glover and the MOB ensemble brought nuance and character to the broad opening movement.

Some of the work’s heft comes on account of an expanded wind section – a welcome addition here – whose gleaming declamations punctuated the strings’ dense contrapuntal texture like beams of sunlight. If the Andante movement came off dry and somewhat prosaic, it was lifted by the Presto finale, which was imbued with Terpsichorean vim. In both works, oboist Anne Bach offered gilded warmth to slender but memorable solos.

Rounding out the program was Haydn’s Symphony No. 30. Haydn often makes sense alongside Mozart, but on Saturday his Alleluia Symphony proved somewhat of a snooze between Mozart’s masterworks. Nicknamed for its extensive deployment of the eponymous Gregorian chant in its opening movement, the Alleluia is somewhat staid by Haydn’s standards, perhaps owing to an ecclesiastic origin. Glover’s refined touch may well be suited to such a stately work, and it produced a polished and admirable Allegro, but the following movements – an Andate and a Minuet – lost steam and fell flat.

Although Mozart was ostensibly the evening’s honoree, it was English trumpeter Alison Balsom who stole the spotlight as the soloist in Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto.

Balsom is something of a modern exemplar for this piece of standard trumpet repertoire, and it’s easy to see why. Throughout the first movement, she brought a radiant sound and a lustrous clarino that soared effortlessly over the ensemble, and her technical bravado in the concise yet staggering cadenza left the audience breathless. Balsom’s mastery in this work, however, is most evident in her seamless interplay with the ensemble, as was heard in the Andante — whether trading rippling melodies with the first violins or blending into the orchestral mix with a plush timbre of her own, her contributions were balanced and precise. For their part, Glover and her band delivered playing was deserving of their star guest.

Clearly a crowd favorite, Balsom was met with hoots and vigorous applause from the moment she appeared onstage. The volcanic standing ovation that followed her performance seemed inevitable; as an encore, she played the final movement of Bach’s transcription of Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D Major.

This program is repeated in a sold-out performance 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the North Shore Center.; 312-551-1414.