“Windy City”: Music of the Baroque reviewed by Julia W. Rath

By Julia W. Rath, Around the Town Chicago
November 21, 2023

Windy City”, the title of Music of the Baroque’s latest concert, is a play on words. The November 19th performance at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts took place in the “Windy City” of Chicago—but at the same time, the focus was on wind instruments. Plus those who live in this part of the world know how the wind kicks up in late autumn as the leaves blow away and the seasons change. What a perfect choice of program for late November!

Of the five compositions conducted by music director Dame Jane Glover, two were concertos.

William Buchman played Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Bassoon Concerto in F Major, op. 24, with such finesse and gusto that the performance seemed like magic! Incredible technique, articulation, and long breaths are involved such a challenging piece, and the music only gets tougher as time moves on. We heard the Allegro moderato followed by the Romanza—Andantino e cantabile with its long and defined credenza. The complexities for the bassoon hit their peak in the Rondo—Vivace section. Bravo! Kudos also to oboe soloists Anne Bach and Erica Anderson who accompanied this last portion of the music.

French hornist Oto Carrillo was spotlighted in the second half when he played Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat Major, K. 495 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As one of the other concertgoers said immediately afterward: “This is an embarrassment of riches.” The concerto is notable by the credenza in the Allegro maestoso movement. Basically, this piece of music mirrors the Hummel played earlier, when in fact, the familiar trills and thrills of Mozart and his three-part concerto preceded Hummel by twenty years.

Speaking of coming first, the evening started out with Joseph Bologne’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 11. For those unfamiliar with Bologne, he was a biracial composer in the court of King Louis XVI and a friend of Marie Antoinette. Bologne was a violinist by training, and it’s so no surprise that his symphony features a lot of violin music. The 6/8 Allegro presto movement gives way to an Andante movement that ends softly on piano. A viola solo by Elizabeth Hagen and a violin solo by Kevin Case (concertmaster), followed later by a violin trio featuring Case, Kathleen Brauer (assistant concertmaster), and Martin Davids adds vivacity to the Presto movement.

Chicago, the Windy City, is also known for its water and waterfront. Water has played a tremendous role in this city’s history from reversing the flow of the Chicago River to developing the Sanitary and Ship Canal. Thus it is perfectly appropriate for George Frideric Handel’s “Water Music” Suite No. 3 in G Major, HWV 350 to be on the program! Written in eight parts, each segment is a dance in its own right that flows together nicely with the others. The flute solos by Mary Stolper were exacting, as were those of the other solo instruments. We listened to Anne Bach and Erica Anderson on oboe, Lewis Kirk on bassoon, and Patrick O’Malley on recorder, who played the very smallest variety known as the garklein.

The program closed with Symphony No. 96 in D Major (Miracle) by Joseph Haydn. As conductor Dame Glover said at the beginning of the evening, this symphony was nicknamed “Miracle” because when it was first performed in London, a chandelier crashed, and nobody in the audience was injured. The composition features lots of oboe solos. The Andante section is known for its distinct flute duet, bassoon solos, and trio of first violins; the Minuet – Trio contains the most oboe solos of the entire composition, and then there are the sounds of trumpets at the end of the movement. The Finale – Vivace assai provided a fitting conclusion to both the symphony and the evening. Special credit must go to the lovely playing by Bach and Anderson on oboe, Buchman and Kirk on bassoon, Stolper and Alyce Johnson on flute, and Barbara Butler and Tage Larsen on trumpet—and of course, all the wind instruments.

Dame Glover’s impressive talent was on display throughout. This was a standout performance! She knew exactly how to accompany each of the soloists, following their every note and nuance. Moreover, when it came to conducting Bologne’s and Haydn’s symphonies, we could watch her subtle hand gestures, such as when she opened and closed her hands. She felt every note of the music: from the delicate to the sublime. She would rock her body and jump in a lively manner—and the orchestra knew exactly what she meant and what to do. Not only was Dame Glover into full body conducting, but she gave a full body hug to all of the soloists. Her presence exuded such warmth! As my guest put it, “She is very inspiring and so they all want to do their best for her.”

The only thing that went awry during the performance was that someone’s cell phone happened to go off during the bassoon concerto. The good part was that the ringtone was coincidentally in the key of F. So the interruption wasn’t as bad as it otherwise could have been!

When we got to the end of the performance, it was so perfect that the wind had been totally knocked out of me! I couldn’t breathe by the end!

“Windy City” was performed at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, in Skokie, on Sunday, November 19, 2023. This is followed by a performance on Monday, November 20, 2023 at the Harris Theater for Music & Dance, 205 W. Randolph Drive, in Chicago’s Millennium Park.