Music of the Baroque conveys the joyous element of Bach’s Mass in B minor

Mon Apr 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor was performed by Music of the Baroque Sunday night in Evanston.

Crime, taxes, political corruption. There are plenty of things to complain about regarding life in Chicago, to be sure. But how many metropolitan areas are there when, on successive evenings, one can experience a terrific performance of an obscure Handel opera, followed by a majestic account of Bach’s Mass in B minor?

In a bountiful Baroque weekend, Chicago Opera Theater’s opening-night performance of Handel’s Teseo on Saturday was followed by Bach’s epic mass, presented by Music of the Baroque to a sold-out house Sunday evening at First United Methodist Church in Evanston. The mass will be repeated Monday night at the Harris Theater.

In their penultimate program of the season, Jane Glover and MOB served up a rousing and largely effective performance of Bach’s late masterpiece. The challenges are many for interpreters, not least holding the sprawling architecture together, eliciting solo and choral singing that can tackle the score’s myriad complexities, and conveying the spiritual depths as well as the joyous aspects of Bach’s mass.

The evening got off to a decidedly slow start with a surprisingly literal and prosaic Kyrie. Yet with the eruption of the Gloria in excelsis Deo-–timpani to the fore and trumpets blazing—the performance took flight.

Glover may be better known for her Handel bona fides, but she is also an insightful Bach advocate, as shown in the celebrated Christmas Oratorio performances of two season ago. Still, while this was a skillfully paced performance, the spiritual power and expressive depths of the music were not always in evidence Sunday, sensitively sung and played as it was.

What did come across with sure impact was the joyous aspect of Christ’s resurrection, throw off with thrilling vitality, trumpeters Barbara Butler, Charles Geyer and Jennifer Marotta making a mighty noise indeed.

The quartet of soloists provided largely admirable singing if not always as deeply expressive as one might prefer.

The bright-toned soprano Yulia Van Doren blended winningly with tenor Lawrence Wilford in the duet Dominie Deus, and Wilford also provided the solo highlight of the evening with his plangent and affecting Benedictus que venit.

Krisztina Szabo’s plunging decolletage likely kept some audience members’ attention on the temporal, yet the statuesque Canadian mezzo sang with feeling and rich tone in Qui sedes. Stephen Powell anchored the quartet effectively at the low end with his resonant baritone. One jarring moment in the Credo in unum Deum apart, the 34-member chorus sang with fine verve and sensitivity under William Jon Gray’s direction.

As always, the Music of the Baroque musicians shone in their many obbligato moments, particularly concertmaster Robert Waters, flutist Mary Stolper and oboist Robert Morgan.

The Mass in B minor will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Harris Theater.; 312-551-1414.

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