Two successful seasons brought to a close in Hyde Park

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

When you can see summer coming without resort to squinting, you also know that the music season is coming to a close. Two performing groups with strong Hyde Park support, Baroque Band and the Chicago Ensemble, have both given their final performances of the 2014-15 season and both were wonderfully done.

Baroque Band closed out their musical year at Augustana Luthern Church on the last Saturday of May with two great works: Handel’s “Water Music” and a piece by Telemann with a similar title: “Wassermusik: Hamburger Ebb und Fluth.” The band sported the largest array of instrumentalists in their young history for this concert, with their ever-glowing strings and harpsichord augmented by flute, oboes, bassoon, horns, trumpet and theorbo. The results were smashing.

Conductor and artistic director Garry Clarke drew rousing sound from his ensemble, led with gorgeous playing from concertmaster Joan Plana.
The Telemann featured particularly wonderful sound from Leighann Daihl (flute) and spectacular work from Nate Helgeson (bassoon). The great energy of Overture set the stage for the following nine short movements with classical themes and dance settings. The Bourée was frisky, the Gavotte playful, and the Harlequinade furiously fast and engaging. The closing Canarie had Clarke stomping his feet at times for charming percussive effect.

Handel’s “Water Music” was similarly effective. It began with Justin Bland and David Kjar offering gleaming trumpet work, pleasingly bright and brassy. The round tone from the flute made the Sarabande particularly lovely. David Walker’s Theorbo added delicate moments. The only blemish on the evening was that while the horns succeeded more often than they failed, they nonetheless struggled noticeably.

Clarke effectively drew out the contrasting dark and sunny elements of the music and knew when to make it bounce. There were moments as light as a soufflé. When they reached the most famous music from the suite, it was zing and zest of the best kind.

On Sunday, the Chicago Ensemble ended their season at International House with the kind of concert which has made them a success for nearly 40 years: an eclectic selection of music cleverly chosen and well-knitted together, including many rarely-performed works. The ensemble featured soprano Michelle Areyzaga, violinist Olga Dubossarskaya Kaler, flutist Susan Levitin, and — as always — pianist and artistic director, Gerald Rizzer.

Areyzaga had many opportunities to shine and she took them firmly in hand. In a 2001 work by American composer Mark Zuckerman — “Ménagerie” — she was an apt story-teller, bringing to life poetry by Robert Desnos which Rizzer noted was beloved by French children. “Le Léopard” was enhanced by Levitin’s flute, which at first merely purred but then offered a dangerous growling sound evoking danger. Areyzaga had the wide-eyed awe of both the detached reciter as well as innocent listening child. There was a sense of quiet night with soft cat feet in the dark forest, hiding and waiting. Similarly, “Le Ver luisant” (The Glow Worm) had nocturnal effectiveness with the instrumentalists creating the twinkle of the stars while the soprano had the fragile quality of the uncertain light of the firefly.

Debussy’s Sonata for violin and piano put Kaler’s skill on display. She knew when to create soaring expressiveness and when to rely on sparing sound. She and Rizzer performed with an excellent unity of purpose.

Martinu’s Madrigal Sonata was fresh and playful. Areyzaga was sweet and gentle in some selected songs by Poulenc, and committed in the 1923 Suite for soprano and violin by Villa-Lobos, although these songs did not ultimately come off as all that interesting.

The closing Deux Interlues by Ibert was notable for its quiet intensity. The program opened with J.S. Bach’s aria, “Herr, deine Güte reich, so weit der Himmel ist,” which found violin and flute not entirely in sync.