Kraemer, Music of the Baroque serve up an array of lesser-known treasures

Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 10:39 am

By Michael Cameron

Jean Philippe Rameau's SuIte from "Dardanus" was performed Sunday night by Music of the Baroque. Bust: Jean-Jacques Caffieri

One of the pleasures of Baroque music affairs is the possibility for surprise and discovery, even among seasoned concertgoers. Music of the Baroque’s concert Sunday night at the First United Methodist Church in Evansto was a survey of instrumental music of the highest quality by five of the era’s finest composers, yet many of the works were MOB premieres.

Conductor/harpsichordist Nicholas Kraemer mixed it up nicely, with four nations, five composers (and their respective national styles), and two concertos. As usual the ensemble’s principal guest conductor brought a knowing, authoritative air to the performances, with tempos that seemed consistently “right,” no easy feat in an era when such basic decisions involve plenty of educated guesswork.

The modern stereotype of Telemann as a composer who put quantity above quality was easily dashed by absorbing performances of two fine works. Quadro opened in the manner of a curtain-raising processional, and the finale was a high-flying moto perpetuo for the violin section. His Concerto in E Minor for Recorder and Flute boasted winning tunes and tight structures, while the finale drew inspiration from a rollicking Polish folk song. Amy Pikler (recorder) and Mary Stolper (flute) were the expressive and precisely matched soloists.

Purcell’s Pavan and Fantasia Upon a Ground proved startling in its inventiveness and virtuoso flourishes. Dissonances appeared and vanished at surprising moments, including one ear-stretching passage just before the final bar. Violinists Robert Waters, Sharon Polifrone, and Kevin Case traded lyrical and virtuosic phrases with expert care.

Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in B flat Major is more familiar territory, and Kraemer’s forces delivered a reading that was elegant and controlled. Vivaldi’s beloved Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins emerged vivid and boisterous, boasting cascades of brilliant scales and nicely considered ornamentation. Violinist Kathleen Brauer joined Waters, Case, and Polifrone as the winning foursome.

The most compelling work in the program was Rameau’s Suite from Dardanus, a set of seven delightful instrumental excerpts from his 1739 opera. The Menuet en rondeau was as airy as a souffl√©, while the Chaconne included textures that thinned to a bare wisp, a moment of delicacy underlined by hushed dynamics. Audience favorites were the two Tambourin movements, during which the conductor brandished the actual percussion instrument for the final convivial bars.

As fine as the concert was, there was room to nit-pick.  Some of the slow movements might have benefited from a bit more expressive freedom, and Kraemer would do well to occasionally push the energy envelope in the manner of many early-music ensembles these days. As a whole the evening was a fitting tribute to the seemingly inexhaustible treasures of a remarkable musical era.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Harris Theater. baroque.org; 312-551-1414.

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