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.
Handel was nothing if not a practical businessman. When the taste for Italian opera began to wane in 1730s London, the composer–noting the popularity of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera–turned to works written in the vernacular.
Among these was Alexander’s Feast, which gave Handel one of his great successes and hastened his move toward English oratorios. Handel’s ode to “The Pow’r of Musick” was the sole work on Music of the Baroque’s season-opening program, led by conductor Nicholas Kraemer Monday night at the Harris Theater.
"As the other half of the British conducting team leading Music of the Baroque, principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer doesn't always get sufficient credit for the invigorating musical insights he brings to the group's 17th- and 18th-century repertory. The diverse and appealing program of Baroque suites and concertos with which he concluded MOB's 45th anniversary season Monday night at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance reminded one of those virtues."
Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Horns received a nimble and stylish performance from Boen and Robert Johnson. The two soloists matched their phrasing and dynamics deftly in an elegant reading with the hunting motif of the finale thrown off with understated bravura. The horns are silent in the central Largo, a duet for two cellos that explores a surprising depth of tragedy, and was given dark eloquence by Barbara Haffner and Judy Stone.
" 'Rejoice in The Lord alway' made an apt curtain-raiser, with three solo voices leaning into the heart-easing opening phrases before the entrance of the full choir. Agnew consistently underlined the complexity of Purcell’s writing for divided voices, drawing out [its] striking, layered sophistication."
"Every conductor who undertakes the "Vespers" is faced with a daunting host of editorial decisions. But since Glover is as knowledgeable a Baroque scholar as she is a skilled Baroque interpreter, her musical choices proved to be a smart and convincing mixture of historical authenticity and modern practicality, each carefully tailored to the forces at hand and the performance space.
"... In closing the concert, Glover and the orchestra milked the comic potential of the Haydn’s celebrated gimmick in the finale of the players gradually leaving the stage. Their theatrical exits elicited much genuine laughter from the audience, without shortchanging the fundamental musical qualities of the movement."
"Fox’s time spent in Russia was palpable in the Ave Maria (“Bogoroditse Dyevo”) from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, rendered with expressive power and weight. Likewise, the men of the chorus brought imposing sonority to Pavel Chesnokov’s “Spasyeniye sodyelal,” with a febrile Slavic sound from the tenors, and Fox drawing finely shaded dynamics."
"Jane Glover made the strongest possible case for the rarely heard oratorio leading a vital and spirited performance, aided by outstanding choral singing and a superb cast of soloists Monday night at the Harris Theater."
"...Good for Jane Glover for choosing Handel's beautiful and imposing work for her first concerts of the season with Music of the Baroque, and for the urgently dramatic performance she led with her chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists Sunday afternoon at a sold-out North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie."
"Most everything goes right whenever Music of the Baroque presents the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and that happened again Monday night as principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer began the group's season downtown at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance."
"Williams’s warm, flexible baritone conveyed the interior rumination and spiritual confidence of this setting with just the right degree of dignified gravitas. The recitatives had the affirmative strength to balance the intimate solace of the three arias. In the central “Schlummert ein,” Williams’ subtle dynamic shading and expressive poise conveyed the longing for peaceful repose with Kraemer drawing equally nuanced string playing."
“Much of Haydn’s mass is scored with requisite brilliance and the orchestra under Glover delivered consistently lively and exhilarating playing. Even by their standard, the clarion trumpet work of Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer and Channing Philbrick was simply spectacular."
“Sterling throughout was William Jon Gray's chorus, which sang with clear, precise diction both loud and soft. Pick-Staiger's acoustic allows a true pianissimo only with effort, and in the Haydn the chorus of 28 repeatedly achieved it, conveying moments of inwardness that in the adagios of the Gloria and Credo gave touching repose amid the ardor."
“Hor che ‘l ciel e la terra” opened with a profound nocturnal stasis again fitting its lyrics, and the basses violently delivered the bemoaning line “guerra è il mio stato” (“war is my lot”), joined by fiery violin playing from Martin Davids and Jeri-Lou Zike. Bass Todd Von Felker’s robust laudation of Emperor Ferdinand III was the highlight of the afternoon’s closing “Altri canti d’Amor,” which featured precision singing in fleet, staggered entrances from the rest of the ensemble."
“The performance was especially inspired in the bipartite Andante, with Glover fluently charting the progression from the tragic opening section to the lighter Allegretto. The various episodes were deftly characterized, with guest concertmaster Nurit Pacht showing fine panache in the flashy concertante middle section for violin."
“Though not exactly a household name, at least in the United States, soloist Imogen Cooper boasts an impressive resume, and she was nothing short of superb here, bringing a well-developed technique, a bright, clear tone and a light, supple touch to this work."
“The attention to characterization that they would employ throughout this performance was noticeable from the very outset of the first movement in which the violins played their upward scale figures as if they were firing them like arrows off the strings, which contrasted nicely with the impassive melody in the woodwinds."
“Those fortunate enough to have seen a Susanna Phillips performance will know that her artistry makes the sonic and the visual all of one piece. Her vocal characterizations are wedded to facial expressions and physical gestures to create a fully absorbing dramatic experience."
“Amid the snowflake-like abundance of seasonal concert offerings, one can always count on Music of the Baroque’s annual Brass and Choral program to offer intelligent holiday programming a cut above the standard carols and crossover piffle."
“[I] came away impressed with Glover's firm pacing, her judicious balancing of the 26-voice chorus against the instrumental body of 35 players, and the beguiling lift she brought to the rhythms. [The] chorus brought a manifest sense of rejoicing to everything it sang, its diction crisp and precise no matter how brisk the tempos.”
“[Roderick Williams] provided most of the solo highlights, singing in superbly idiomatic style with a firm line yet yielding, flexible expression and making every line of the text count. Few can beat Paul Agnew as an Evangelist. Soprano Yulia Van Doren sang with a bright tone and blended well with Williams in their duets. Mezzo Krisztina Szabo brought worthy drama to her recitatives in the latter cantatas.”
“The vocal end was especially well-served Monday with a finely balanced quartet (soprano Sherezade Panthaki, mezzo Meg Bragle, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Stephen Powell). The MOB chorus, well prepared by William Jon Gray, sang with notable fervor and refinement, and the orchestra played well with an imposing trombone solo by Luis Fred in the “Tuba mirum.”
“The music-making inside the Harris was notably vibrant and rewarding...with Nicholas Kraemer leading from the harpsichord in a deft mixture of familiar works and rarities spotlighting two vocal works set in Italian by Bach and Handel.”
“Under Glover‘s enlightened leadership, everything sounded effortless. It all flowed together, as befits a work completely absent of darkness or malice. Indeed, it‘s hard to think of a more optimistic, uplifting piece of music.”
“Under Glover's vital and nuanced direction, the excellent three soloists and the Music of the Baroque orchestra and chorus delivered an ebullient, vividly characterized performance that gave us one of MOB's finest efforts of recent seasons.”
“Sunday's superb debut performance, which featured a chamber orchestra and aptly compact 35-voice chorus, captured the full vibrancy, energy and charm of this masterful adaptation of the Book of Genesis.”
“Glover brought to ‘The Creation’ an academic's understanding of Haydn style and a veteran performer's understanding of how to give this richly varied music living, breathing form on stage. And she infused her palpable committment in her capable soloists, orchestra and chorus.”
“With notably clear textures, Glover found a dexterous balance between refinement and vigor, with tempos fleet yet never breathless. The orchestra was in exceptional form with concertmaster du jour Kathleen Brauer leading with especially fine playing. Yet the most impressive element Monday was the first-class contribution of the chorus.”
“It was refreshing to hear Beethoven and Schubert symphonies and a Mozart piano concerto played by an orchestra of 37 musicians, close in size to that of the Viennese ensembles of the late 18th and early 19th centuries...Always the music moved with gracious phrasing and flowing, singing lines.”
“Impeccably balanced, with superb choral singing, and played with polish and fine vitality across all sections, the English conductor put across the jubilant moments as surely as the passages of introspection and spiritual solace..”
“MOB pleases more consistently in Bach than in the works of just about any other composer, particularly when guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer is in charge, balancing historical awareness with communicative expression.”
“Jane Glover and Music of the Baroque did Bach’s music great justice Sunday night at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The performance was in the Baroque style and far from stodgy and academic. It was tensely dramatic, tenderly beautiful, and on edge, as a story of this magnitude ought to be.”
“…Glover and the Music of the Baroque orchestra and chorus succeeded brilliantly in putting this inspired score across. Glover consistently illuminated Handel’s imaginative musical onomatopoeia as with the whirling violin passages depicting the flies, the pizzicato for rain, and uninhibited timpani and trumpets for a driving hailstorm.”
“Major works by Mozart and Haydn have marked Jane Glover’s 10th season as music director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque. But it would be hard to find a better demonstration of the high level that this 42-year-old local institution has achieved under Glover and chorus director William Jon Gray, now in his third season, than the brilliant presentation Monday of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” at the Harris Theater..”
“Music director Jane Glover's journey through the big 18th century choral masterpieces with her Music of the Baroque chorus and orchestra took her to Handel's biblical oratorio "Israel in Egypt," in a stylish and satisfying performance heard Sunday evening at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.”
“…how many conductors can make you smile and almost laugh out loud at a particularly witty phrase or unexpected harmonic turn? MOB’s principal guest conductor—in fact, the ensemble’s only guest conductor—is masterful in this repertoire, as shown once again in Friday’s pairing of early and late Haydn symphonies…”
“…the stylistic awareness, interpretive depth and sheer ebullience of outlook Glover has brought to MOB's core Baroque and Classical orchestral and choral repertory in the course of her ten years here have made it one of the most admired groups of its type in the nation.”