Under Kraemer, MOB’s London program swings like the pendulum do

Tue Feb 28, 2023 at 2:33 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Nicholas Kraemer conducted Music of the Baroque in a program titled “London Calling” Monday night at the Harris Theater. Photo: Elliot Mandel

Longtime Music of the Baroque principal guest conductor Nicholas Kraemer led the orchestra in a “London Calling” program on Monday night at the Harris Theater. Featuring 18th-century compositions from (mostly) familiar composers, the evening as a whole was a compelling evocation of a particularly fecund time and place in European musical history.

Kraemer opened the evening with the Symphony No. 5 in D Major by the now-obscure William Boyce (1711-1779). Born in London and a generation younger than Handel, Boyce’s odes and incidental music for theatrical productions were widely popular throughout the city in his day, though the native son’s output has not had anything like the staying power of the German import Handel.

Like all of Boyce’s symphonies, the three-movement Symphony No. 5 was assembled from isolated movements composed earlier. The opening Allegro ma non troppo is a regal fanfare, Monday night highlighted by the clarion playing of MOB stalwart Barbara Butler. This is followed by two brief dances—a gavotte and a minuet—to which Kraemer brought the requisite stately air.

Handel’s Water Music Suite No. 1 followed, and received similarly elevated treatment. Handel’s music took the city by storm after he settled there permanently in 1712, and the Water Music confections he composed as entertainment for one of King George I’s Thames boat parties are some of the happiest and best-known products of his affiliation with the city.

Kraemer’s reading was sensitively inflected, always attuned to Handel’s harmonic and contrapuntal subtleties. Principal oboe Erica Anderson shone in eloquent solo interpolations, and the horn section projected the music’s outdoor ebullience. Kraemer brought a striking punchiness to some of the dances so one almost felt the stomp of feet on a boat deck.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 1 in E-Flat Major, K. 16 opened the second half. Mozart’s first outing in the genre was penned when he was eight years old, apparently at a moment on a London tour when his father was too ill to countenance piano practicing, leading the boy genius simply to pivot to composition. As Kraemer noted, the score is almost “completely devoid of melody,” exploring form and texture rather than tunefulness.

While undeniably accomplished for an eight-year-old, the score also needs a certain amount of help, which it received from Kraemer and colleagues. They brought direction to the triadic opening statement, and lingered over dissonances—many of them genuinely odd—so that these were palpably felt. Given what Mozart ultimately became, it was hard not to hear jocular closing Presto as a taste of things to come.

The program closed with Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 in D Major (“The Clock”), one of the composer’s “London” Symphonies. Kraemer deftly led the somber introductory Adagio into the intricately bustling Presto that follows. The Andante ticked along, with the violins singing its gracious melody over the metronomic accompanying ostinato, and principal flute Mary Stolper made delicate contributions to the Menuetto’s pastoral trio. The Vivace finale bristled with Haydenesque mirth, particularly in the inventive fugal episode near the end, and closed the night with high spirits.

The entire evening was punctuated with  Kraemer’s engaging commentary, which with the help of tastefully selected images projected behind the stage helped to situate the London locales and residences associated with the evening’s composers, enhancing the program’s historical emphasis.

Music of the Baroque also announced their 2023-24 season at this weekend’s performances. Read more here.

Music of the Baroque next performs Bach’s St. Matthew Passion April 2 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, and April 3 at the Harris Theater. baroque.org

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