Review: Music of the Baroque Pays Homage to the Brothers Haydn… and Mozart

Music of the Baroque finished their 2021-22 season at Harris Theater on Monday with The Brothers Haydn, a program centered on Joseph Haydn and his younger brother Michael. The older Haydn perfected the symphony, string quartet, piano sonata, and many other classical music forms, which has made him a pinnacle of music history. His younger brother Michael was also a prolific composer. Unlike his older brother’s music, Michael Haydn’s music was not printed or publicized in his lifetime. It was obscure when it was written toward the end of the 18th century, and it remains that way today.

A prominent figure in both of their lives was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in Salzburg, where Michael Haydn spent his entire creative life. Mozart actually helped Michael Haydn complete a commission for six duos for violin and viola by writing two of them. Mozart’s friendship with the older Joseph Haydn is legendary, including the dedication of his six so-called Haydn string quartets.

On Monday night, Dame Jane Glover led Music of the Baroque and Chorus, with its new chorus director Andrew Megill, in a program of works from these three composers. This followed Sunday night’s performance at the North Shore Center of Performing Arts in Skokie. Monday’s concert was the final concert with trumpet player Charles Geyer.

Dame Jane Glover has much to smile about. Photo by Elliot Mandel.

Designing the program’s first half was clearly a challenge. The original program in the MOB marketing materials had Michael Haydn’s symphony no 26/34/MH 473 in E-flat major. Glover added Mozart’s symphony no 26 in E-flat major, K. 184 and started things with Joseph Haydn’s overture to his opera Il Mondo della Luna, Hob.XXVIII:7. Glover characterized the overture, which was not listed on the printed booklet, as “the encore,” but it ended up being more interesting than the rest of the concert’s first half. Even with the additional works, however, the first half was short.

Keeping the overture theme was Mozart’s Symphony no. 26. Written after the teenager returned from extensive travels in Italy, the symphony’s short three movements follow the overture style Mozart had heard in Italian operas. Michael Haydn’s symphony no 26/34/MH 473 is also in three movements and in the key of E-flat major.

Except for the finale of Haydn’s symphony, these works are not all that interesting. That finale features a lengthy fugal section rife with tension and complexity. As it did throughout the concert, the MOB orchestra shone bright here. Melodic lines shifting between an orchestra’s various sections paired with tight phrasingh and excellent aural balance succeeds every time. Also shining bright were the oboe, bassoon, and horn soloists throughout the symphony.

While not familiar with Michael Haydn’s music, I am familiar with Mozart’s. Symphony no. 29 in A-major or Symphony no. 25 in g-minor would have been better choices. Even more preferable would have been to have kept things with the brothers Haydn, another symphony by Michael or a symphony from Joseph’s sturm and drang period.  

Music of the Baroque jazz section for Creation Mass. Retiring trumpet player trumpet Charles Geyer is in front. Photo by Elliot Mandel.

All concerns went away in the second half, which featured one of the masses Joseph Haydn wrote toward the end of his life. With the Creation Mass, Hob.XXII:13, all of MOB’s deep talent came to the fore, as the orchestra was joined by the chorus under the new leadership of Andrew Megill. The soloists were soprano Rebecca Farley, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Michael St. Peter, and baritone Tyler Duncan. Together, they made some magic.

There were too many good things to report all of them, but Bragle’s warm solo voice set a great tone at the beginning of the Kyrie. The quartet was delightful both singing solo and as an ensemble. It is always a nice feeling to hear all four voices clearly when they sing together. The gel and balance were fabulous.

Haydn gave the orchestra many opportunities to excel, and they met them. High points were the rapid dynamic shifts in Gloria. The Credo opened with charming interplay among the strings, bassoon, organ, and tenor St. Peter. The Sanctus had lots of moving parts between various sections of the orchestra and the chorus.

The Creation Mass got its nickname from the brief interlude in the Gloria when Haydn recalls the duet between Adam and Eve from the Creation Oratorio. It sneaks in very surreptitiously, and I couldn’t help but chuckle when it arrived. 

Music of Baroque starts its 2022-23 season on September 18-19, when if performs George Frideric Handel’s final oratorio, Jephtha. For more information, check out Baroque.org.

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Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world.

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