Kraemer, Music of the Baroque strike sparks with wide-ranging season finale

Tue May 20, 2014 at 11:53 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Nicholas Kraemer  led Music of the Baroque in its season-closing concert Monday night at the Harris Theater.
Nicholas Kraemer led Music of the Baroque in its season-closing concert Monday night at the Harris Theater.

The first performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks was not a logistical success. A public rehearsal at Vauxhall Gardens created a three-hour traffic jam and the premiere itself took place on a rainy day when the celebratory fireworks sparked a conflagration that caused the temporary outdoor theater to burn to the ground.

There were no fireworks at Music of the Baroque’s performance Monday night at the Harris Theater—the venue’s electrical fire in February would have added historical verisimilitude but it took place three months too early. Yet there was ample energy and vivacity in this season-closing concert led by Nicholas Kraemer

Handel’s popular showpiece was the main event yet Kraemer devised a typically offbeat and wide-ranging program to precede it, roving breezily from Purcell and Handel to Vivaldi and Rameau. Apart from some fitfully wiry violin ensemble, Monday’s performances had the ebullience and rhythmic vigor we have come to expect from MOB’s principal guest conductor—which makes the fact that Kraemer has been assigned only two programs next season even more regrettable.

Music from Purcell’s The Faerie Queen set the evening on a light and gracious note. Kraemer’s concise selection of short excerpts segued from the regal trumpet fanfares of the Overture to the Rondeau’s gentle pastoralism and the energetic fugal writing of the Symphony to Act IV.

William Buchman (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
William Buchman (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Antonio Vivaldi wrote 37 bassoon concertos. Nobody seems to know why.

Yet it was his Bassoon Concerto in B-flat, “La notte,” that first sparked William Buchman’s youthful interest in the instrument. On Monday, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s assistant principal (and MOB principal) was the soloist in this Vivaldi rarity.

Like The Four Seasons, the brief work is programmatic, reflecting various aspects of night. The bassoon is an unlikely solo instrument yet Buchman’s mellow tone, fluent articulation and easy facility made the best possible case for this rather slight music, the soloist bringing an apt light melancholy to the “Il Sono” section and whirling bravura in the Presto “Fantasmi.”

Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach was the Peck’s Bad Boy of the Bach progeny, writing in an eccentric and subversive style that sounds jarringly modern even today. His Symphony in B minor for Strings is representative of CPE’s edgy idiom, and Kraemer led a driving performance that underlined the jarring modulations, abrupt gearshifts and vaults through several keys.

It was a clever idea to pair Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks with excerpts from Rameau’s opera, Naïs. Both works were written to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which brought an end to the War of Austrian Secession.

Rameau’s music revels in unusual colors and instrumentation. If the festive pomp of the Overture felt rather English Monday night, Rameau’s quirky scoring was immediately made manifest with the highlighted two piccolos (which, Kraemer noted, likely would inspire Berlioz nearly a century later).

All the brilliantly colored music that preceded it, threatened to make Handel’s showpiece into something of an anticlimax, but that didn’t happen. Kraemer led an exhilarating performance that brought out the easy lyrical flow of the “Le Paix” section and fine weight to the majestic Minuet I. The conductor’s slight reordering of the movements ensured a rousing finale to the concert and MOB season by closing with a “Le Rejouissance” that boasted gleaming work by trumpeters Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer.

Music of the Baroque’s 2014-15 season opens October 19 and 20 with Nicholas Kramer leading performances of Mozart’s Requiem.

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