Music of the Baroque’s sopranos shine
Music of the Baroque
Next concert: Bravura Bach, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 18-19
Music of the Baroque played in a new venue the evening of Sunday Oct. 7. From audience comment, it appears the jury is still out on whether the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie is the place where the esteemed ensemble should be. But from my seat on the main floor seat, the acoustics were excellent. The only thing missing was the reverberation from the stone walls of the First United Methodist Church in Evanston where they had performed for years
On the podium was Jane Glover, music director of this outstanding group for the last decade. The headliner of the night was Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass,” which filled the second half of the program and featured Music of the Baroque’s superb 28-voice chorus.
Soloists were soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano Kathryn Leemhuis, tenor David Portillo and bass-baritone Stephen Morscheck.
The music followed the regular parts of the Roman Catholic Mass, sung in Latin with concert pronunciation. Haydn gave the lioness’s share of singing to the soprano and Phillips, whose credits include leads at the Met and Lyric, was up to the task.
In the “Kyrie” her tone was initially harsh, even shrill, but by the middle of “Gloria” which followed, she was displaying her strong vibrant voice to advantage.
This performance marked the Music of the Baroque debut of both Leemhuis and Phillips. Their duets were especially lovely, with voices blending as easily as if they were sisters. Portillo and Morscheck sang admirably, though not often.
The Music of the Baroque chorus, directed since 2010 by William Jon Gray, is one of the gems of the Chicago music scene. The sopranos sang like birds in the sunshine, and the ensemble, under Maestra Glover’s baton, was able to turn on a dime, navigating from swift to slow, from full-voiced to almost a whisper.
Their “Gloria” was buoyant, and their “Credo” shimmered with shifting moods, from the tender “Et incarnatus” to the joyful “Et resurrexit.” The “Sanctus” was presented with reverence, and in the “Benedictus,” the choir echoed each of the soprano’s phrases.
Glover, without score or baton, opened the program with Mozart’s bright Divertimento in F. The music was feather-light, but by no means lightweight. Most merry was the jaunty Presto.
It was followed by Symphony No. 39 in D, (Prague), composed toward the end of Mozart’s short life. Glover was perfection as she directed the orchestra, again without score or baton. Her leadership was precise, pristine even, but never prissy.
Of particular note in this performance was the performance of the flutes, principal Mary Stolper, and Sandra Morgan, who articulated each phrase with upmost clarity.
Glover and Mozart — a perfect marriage.
P.S. There are additional reasons why the North Shore Center is a good place to perform. The site boasts creature comforts, including plentiful restrooms on both sides of the main floor, rather than in the basement, and cushioned theater seats, instead of wooden church pews.