Egging them on

Baroque Band took on Handel’s “Messiah” Wednesday night at the Cultural Center, and the performance was every bit as fleet and exciting as we’ve come to expect from Garry Clarke and his players.

Chicago choir Bella Voce ably handled the choruses, and the four soloists — soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, countertenor Mark Crayton, tenor James Kryshak and bass Craig Irvin — did standout work. Stoppelenburg was particularly good, navigating both the pace Clarke set and the demands of the music with apparent ease. Topping it off, she ornamented with taste. Her pronunciation was odd at times, probably because she’s Dutch — something one wouldn’t have learned from the program notes, which gave little information beyond the names of the performers and sponsors. More information next time, please.

Crayton suffered a bit in comparison to the other singers because his voice is smaller (well, everybody’s voice was smaller than Irvin’s), but sang well. My only complaint might be his ornamentation in the repeat of “He was despised,” which made the melody almost chirpy and at odds with the words. I’ve heard others do similar things to the piece, often with jarring results. Maybe the key is to vary the characterization, not so much the notes.

Since I didn’t take any notes during the performance, this isn’t a full review, more an appreciation of an excellent job. A few rocky entries by the choir, one or two ragged moments in the strings, an occasional melody gone astray and a crash that sounded like a card table being thrown downstairs were about the only flaws (and the crash was hardly the band’s fault). Oh, and the notes. This performance was sponsored in part by the city of Birmingham, England, whose first “Messiah” came in 1760. If there was anything special about the circumstances, the forces used, the edition, we weren’t told. If there’s nothing to be said, we weren’t told that either.

Before the concert began, I was looking at the program when a woman sitting next to me burst out laughing. She pointed to a line in it: “His yolk is easy.” Over easy, we said simultaneously, giggling. Well, Clarke certainly egged on the band: his tempi were swift (I saw Irvin stifle a smile in both “Why do the nations” and “The trumpet shall sound” as he zipped through them) but seldom felt rushed.

All in all, an invigorating performance.

Which reminds me, I meant to write about BB’s first concert of the season a while back but never got around to it. A tasting of Italian string music, it gave the lie to the easy stereotype of the baroque schools: German=counterpoint, French=rhetoric, Italian=melody. Sure, there was melody aplenty in the pieces, but Clarke took care to bring out the architecture, and not just in the fugal movements. In addition, he gave us a great oddity in the Marcello, a fascinating piece I’d love to hear again.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the season, especially “La Resurrezione” in June. City Musick and Chicago Opera Theater have given memorable versions of the oratorio (the very louche Jesus at the end of COT’s was a hoot), so it will be exciting to hear it again.


I meant to include this earlier. It popped up during a Google search for Baroque Band. Order yours today!

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