Music of the Baroque opens season with the decidedly un-Baroque Beethoven

Tue Oct 04, 2011 at 10:52 am

By Wynne Delacoma

Jane Glover conducted Music of the Baroque in an opening program of Beethoven and Mozart Monday night at the Harris Theater.

A 41st concert season may not be as glamorous as a 40th, an anniversary that Music of the Baroque celebrated in appropriately festive style last season.

There was no lack of exuberance, however, in the program of Mozart and Beethoven that opened the ensemble’s new season. MOB was making its first foray into Beethoven’s music with the Coriolan Overture, the First Symphony and the Fantasia for piano, chorus and orchestra (Choral Fantasy).

Distinguished British pianist Imogen Cooper, a rare and always welcome guest in Chicago, was soloist in the Choral Fantasy as well as Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466. Jane Glover, MOB’s music director, was on the podium, conducting with her usual high energy. At Monday night’s performance in the Harris Theater, all the musicians, including vocal soloists and a reduced contingent of MOB’s chorus, performed with the joyful intensity that has been the ensemble’s hallmark since Glover’s arrival in 2002.

The concert’s wide range of sonorities—from solo piano and individual voices to full-throated orchestral playing—added to the sense of occasion. Music sounds incredibly clear in the Harris Theater, ideal for a crack ensemble like MOB with its pristine attacks and delicately transparent phrasing. But the theater’s resonance also allows sound to blossom, adding a touch of luxurious, velvet-tinged luster. In terms of acoustics, classical music lovers couldn’t ask for anything more.

With their abrupt shifts in mood, Mozart’s piano concerto and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy offered Cooper ample opportunity to explore her own wide-ranging capabilities.  In the concerto’s opening moments, following the orchestra’s tension-filled, restless introduction, Cooper floated in with a liquid, dulcet song. Even in the concerto’s most tumultuous moments, a sense of lyrical, seamless line was ever-present beneath her powerful, pulsing chords and hammering octaves. In the slow movement she found depth in the simple melody that can become a mere ditty in lesser hands. With Glover keeping an expert balance among music forces in the Choral Fantasy, Cooper shifted easily from introspective soloist to hard-charging colleague with vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra in the fantasy’s exultant finale.

The tautly paced Coriolan Overture made it clear that MOB offered audiences a rare chance to truly hear Beethoven’s typically bright-colored but densely woven layers. In the First Symphony as well, we were able to fully savor distinctive musical gestures, from the lilting, fragile solo flights of principal second violin Sharon Polifrone to the spontaneous interplay of gleaming strings, smoky winds and mellow brass.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Music of the Baroque opens season with the decidedly un-Baroque Beethoven”

  1. Posted Oct 05, 2011 at 9:08 pm by Roland Buck

    They should really change their name to “Music from the 18th century.” They play Haydn, Mozart, and now Beethoven. But they play very little 17th century baroque music.

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