Music of the Baroque delivers an impassioned Mozart Requiem

Sat Feb 06, 2010 at 12:40 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

If the historical circumstances of the dying Mozart’s final work being his unfinished Requiem were not bracing enough, the Harris Theater audience at Music of the Baroque’s concert Friday night featuring that work was jarringly reminded of the temporal nature of things.

Near the end of the first half, a violist suddenly dropped her instrument and froze, apparently suffering a seizure or stroke. Conductor Jane Glover finished the symphony’s final movement while the stricken woman’s stand partner tended to her and following the performance, she was helped offstage. The concert continued but that onstage drama cast an even more somber note than usual on the Requiem that followed.

The Mozartian bona fides of Music of the Baroque’s music director are a known quantity, and Friday’s Requiem did not disappoint, with Glover leading a dramatic and powerful performance. Textually, this Requiem combined the best aspects of tradition and historically informed practice. The standard Süssmayr completion was utilized rather than Beyer or Levin, yet Glover enforced fleet tempos, stark balances—timpani and brass given the lead—and original instrumentation, with dark-hued basset horns rather than clarinets.

With some unsettled ensemble and an uneven opening solo by soprano Arianna Zukerman, things got off to a shaky start. Following a blindingly fast Kyrie—the chorus courageously keeping pace with Glover’s warp-speed tempo—the performance settled into a more coherent and naturally expressive flow. Glover, the chorus and orchestra brought unnerving fire and intensity to the Dies irae and Rex tremendae, the conductor drawing forceful dynamic contrast between the malign male voices and the women’s ethereal pleading in the Confutatis.

Friday night’s performance, which played to a sold-out house, benefited from a mostly superb quartet, voices contrasted, yet singing with fluent unity. Stephen Morscheck was the anchor, the bass-baritone singing with stentorian authority in the Tuba mirum. Phyllis Pancella’s rich, even mezzo conveyed the consolatory nature of the Recordare and the clear plaintive tenor of Scott Ramsay made an impact as well. Zukerman possesses a bright, lovely soprano but was less consistent, with words indecipherable in the Lux aeterna.

Still, this was an impassioned and committed performance of Mozart’s swan song with fine playing by the orchestra. William Jon Gray impressively prepared the chorus for these performances, eliciting notably clear diction and vital ensemble, some tonal thinness among the sopranos apart.

The evening began with Mozart’s delightful Symphony No. 29. Glover led an alert and flowing reading, though the string sonority felt rather softly focused even considering period strictures. The conductor’s refined touch in the Andante didn’t entirely avoid blandness with one generous repeat too many. The rest of the performance went better with a notably vigorous final movement, some surprisingly raw horn playing apart.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Evanston.; 312-551-1414.

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3 Responses to “Music of the Baroque delivers an impassioned Mozart Requiem”

  1. Posted Feb 09, 2010 at 12:08 pm by Lawrence Eckerling

    I wasn’t there to experience it…but I have to say…STOP THE PERFORMANCE, and help the violist off, call an ambulance, and then when appropriate, resume. I sure hope the violist is ok.

  2. Posted Feb 09, 2010 at 4:12 pm by larryj

    The episode was, fortunately, a sudden fainting spell though it looked more serious to those in attendance Friday night. After being hospitalized for two days, she was released and appears to be fine.

    Larry Johnson

  3. Posted Feb 12, 2010 at 7:38 am by Peter Gutowski

    I *was* at the performance and was pained and appalled that Glover just blithely continued! It helped contribute to a very disappointing performance for me. Yes, the basset horns were “dark.” But the large-bore, modern brass instruments together with string playing that seemed more like Wagner made me wonder, “Isn’t this precisely what MOTB is trying to save us from?”

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