“Viva Vivaldi!” -Music of the Baroque reviewed by Julia W. Rath

By Julia W. Rath, Around the Town Chicago
October 16, 2023

Antonio Vivaldi wrote most of his music for a girls’ school in Venice, a convent that once housed abandoned children. Today we become the happy recipients of his elegantly crafted compositions. Sunday’s concert at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts featured an all-Vivaldi program, nicely balanced between vocal and instrumental music. The orchestra and chorus were expertly led by principal guest conductor and harpsichordist Nicholas Kraemer, with chorus director Andrew Megill waiting in the wings.

Before the concert began, we were informed about the passing of Thomas Wikman, the founder of Music of the Baroque in 1972; he was once a voice teacher, organist, and conductor. Then we asked to observe a “moment of reflection”, presumably to think about Wikman’s life but also in keeping with the current world situation: that we cannot ignore the horrors of war in the Middle East and Ukraine as we enjoy tonight’s performance. After the room fell silent for several moments, the program commenced with Vivaldi’s Kyrie in G Minor, RV 587. But during the opening adagio portion, the chorus and orchestra were not cohesive. My speculation is that the “moment of reflection” threw off the musicians when their minds focused elsewhere. However, when they progressed to the allegro portion, everybody suddenly found their groove. And the music was absolutely marvelous from then on!

Next on the program was the Concerto for Lute in D Major, RV 93. Lutist Brandon Acker was absolutely amazing! What talent, what skill! He also explained the instrumentation of this piece in some detail. He stated that it’s very rare for a lute to be a solo instrument because of its soft-sounding nature. He also explained that during the Baroque period (that is, between 1600 and 1750), twenty different types of lutes were created. Among them was the arch lute with its fourteen strings and two necks: Acker’s choice for performing this intimate piece of music. The largo section is perhaps the most familiar to audiences with its melody and almost drone-like accompaniment, followed by the allegro, which is more like a gigue. For this part of the program, only two violins, a cello, and the harpsichord served as accompaniment.

The Sinfonia in B Minor (al Santo Sepolcro), RV 169 followed, with the beginning sounds similar to Kyrie, and, according to conductor Kraemer, could also be used as part of a church service. Here the theorbo and bass are strong and inviting.

The first half of the concert ended with his Credo in E Minor, RV 591, where the stellar choir shines in their compelling pronouncement of Christian faith.

After intermission, we heard his Concerto for 3 Violins in F Major, RV 551. This fabulous performance by violinists Gina DiBello, Kathleen Brauer, and Kevin Case, with all-string accompaniment, wowed the audience. Whispers during the applause revealed just how ecstatic the crowd was. The andante section was particularly lovely, and my guest could not get over how well the pizzicato was played.

The concert concluded with Vivaldi’s energetic Gloria in D Major, RV 589, where the last two sections are especially well-known. The chorus blends beautifully in this composition! Soloists Nathalie Colas (soprano), Susan Nelson (soprano), and Margaret Fox (alto) were featured at various points throughout. An incredible oboe solo by Anne Bach neatly backed the Domine Deus, Rex coelestis section, and later a superior bass solo by Collins Trier and cello solo by Mara McClain had the audience drooling. What a poignant and powerful end to the evening!

Viva Vivaldi!” took place on Sunday, October 15, 7:30 p.m. at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, in Skokie, and Monday, October 16, 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater, in Millennium Park, 205 W. Randolph Drive, in Downtown Chicago