SOBs shine through Baroque Band

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Baroque Band has been pleasing Chicago and particularly Hyde Park audiences since 2007. Founded by British violinist Garry Clarke, it has established itself as a fixture on the Chicago music scene. Such is its strength that it has continued without a glitch this season even with Clarke on a year-long sabbatical.

Taking the reins for the group’s most recent concert, with the title “Their Master’s Voice,” was harpsichordist David Schrader, who has also been a mainstay of Baroque Band since its inception. The program, at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., featured the music of Telemann, J.S. Bach, and what Schrader called two SOBs: “sons of Bach.”

First on the program was Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s Concerto in D Major. It opened with ringing sound as Schrader’s harpsichord danced lightly under the strings until the music gave way to a charmingly sprite keyboard solo, performed as he sat on two hymnals to give him the right height for his instrument. The plaintive Andante was given introspective treatment creating an almost melancholy mood. The Vivace featured splendid articulation and ended in a strong, declarative manner.

The performance was characterized by vigorous attacks, luscious phrasing and frisky pacing.

This was followed by C.P.E. Bach’s Sinfonia No. 5, which Schrader described as Baroque Band’s “bold charge into classicism.” It had lots of dynamic changes and some of those big slashing violin moments which Baroque Band and concertmaster Joan Plana effect so well. The work was conveyed with great energy, and then some.

After the intermission the ensemble took on the Don Quixote Suite by G.P. Telemann. The “Overture” was smooth and creamy with tumbling, descending runs and a compelling freshness, while the “Awakening of Don Quixote” had strings as soft as a kitten’s purr. You could feel the rush of a swirling wind as Don Quixote took on the windmills in the third section of the piece and the low strings added potency to the story during the “Sighs of Love for Princess Aline.” The only disappointment was “Sancho Pansa Swindled,” which seemed disjointed and a little too rattling for me, but the conclusion had beautiful rumbling from the cellos and bass.

The concert concluded with J.S. Bach’s Concerto in A minor for harpsichord, flute and violin, featuring Schrader, Plana and Richard Graef, a flutist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It got underway with big sound and a muscular approach from Plana, who also evinced firm control while creating rich melodic lines. Schrader was notably flexible with his trills and flourishes. The hall was not well-suited to baroque flute, as Graef was often hard to hear, with this problem foremost during the central movement. But the Alla Breve’s complex and rapid harpsichord sections showed off Schrader’s skill and musicality and brought the concert to a satisfying conclusion.

Baroque Band concludes their 2013-14 season in June with a concert entitled “Vivaldi Influenced” with Joan Plana serving as director and solo violinist. On the program are Valentini’s Concerto for four violins, Corelli’s Concerto Grosso, works by Albinoni and Tessarini and four works by Vivaldi: the Concerto in A for strings, RV158; the Concerto Grosso, RV565; “La Stravaganza” RV284; and the Concerto for 2 violins in A minor, RV522 from “L’estro Armonico.” The Hyde Park concert is on Friday, June 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Augustana Lutheran Church. The other performances are on June 7 in Evanston and June 11 in the Grainger Ballroom of Symphony Center. Visit baroqueband.com for more information.

The Chicago Ensemble returns to Hyde Park this Sunday with a concert at 6:30 p.m. in International House, 1414 E. 59th St. Ensemble members Susan Levitin, flute; Elizandro Garcia-Montoya, clarinet; Olga Kaler, violin; Karl Davies, viola; Andrew Snow, cello; and Gerald Rizzer, piano will perform Max Reger’s Serenade No. 2 in G Major, Beethoven’s Trio in E-flat Major, op. 38, William Walton’s Quartet, and Ronn Yedidia’s “Black Snow.” For more information, visit thechicagoensemble.org.