With guest Alex Klein, Baroque Band takes a trip to Italy

Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 12:44 pm

By Bryant Manning

Oboist Alex Klein performed wiuth Baroque Band Thursday night in Evanston.

With the advent of the symphony orchestra, real authentic, down-and-dirty Baroque performances are today a relative luxury. You’ll know it when you see it:  a good one resembles a jazz jam or cocktail party more than a standard chamber concert.

Fortunately, Chicago boasts two very visible Baroque ensembles—one for larger scale repertoire, another that excels in more intimate quarters—proving that properly informed performances of Vivaldi and Corelli are a vital, essential component to any healthy music scene.

Garry Clarke, the Baroque Band’s exuberant director and lead violinist, understands this and brought his signature, animated style to Nichols Hall in Evanston Thursday night. The period-instrument ensemble opened its third season with a theme-centered program focusing on Italy.

The main attraction was the renowned Alex Klein, who helmed the oboe section at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for ten years. A neurological condition hampered the use of his fingers, so Klein left his post as CSO’s principal oboist and began conducting, teaching and accepting guest solo roles.

He was in top form for a pair of short oboe concertos by Albinoni (Op. 9, No.2 in d minor) and Vivaldi (RV 554). Playing on a double reed baroque instrument, Klein brought out the Albinoni’s long, attractive lines while the backing band supplied spirited and pliant accompaniment. The baroque oboe’s tone is much softer around the edge than a modern one, and the lilting melodies in the Vivaldi became almost quiet pleas of desperation. Klein is also a virtuoso of the first order, and the rippling cascades in the Vivaldi finale provided the bravura that some ticketholders had come to see.

Whether it was opening-night jitters or the surprises that come with antique period instruments, clean intonation in the violins was a nagging issue for much of Thursday night. The ensemble, fortunately, addressed the problem after intermission, but curiously recurring off pitches strained an otherwise absorbing night of period-ensemble interpretations.

This, however, can be a happy trade-off. When the prominent Canadian period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik performs, they stay in tune but often make a point of playing listlessly. Not the Baroque Band members, who play with real flair, thanks in part to their arrangement in a semi-circle with Clarke kinetically directing and performing from the center. They wasted no time digging into small nuggets of Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Marcello, yielding lithe, expressive readings that always boiled over to fleeting little climaxes.

The whistle-able melodies from Francesco Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso No. 9 segued nicely to the airy, canon-like opening in Scarlatti’s more three-dimensional Concerto in 7 Parts, No. 2 in c minor. Here we see that wise sequencing is yet another Baroque Band specialty. David Schrader, local harpsichordist extraordinaire, provided expert continuo while the understated cellos and bass were the evening’s unsung heroes.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Hyde Park Union Church and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Grainger Ballroom at Symphony Center. www.baroqueband.org; 312-235-2368.

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