By Lawrence A. Johnson
Five works—four of them rarities—a collaboration with a dance troupe, a cello concerto, and 27 separate movements. Sunday’s Music of the Baroque lineup almost seemed like the kind of program set up for a guest conductor to fail.
Yet Patrick Dupre Quigley handled this minefield of potential disasters with consummate skill, deftly avoiding the myriad of potential minefields Sunday afternoon at North Shore Center in Skokie.
The occasion marked Quigley’s second appearance with MOB after leading the holiday Brass and Choral program in 2019. He was slated to lead a mostly French Baroque program in 2020 but those concerts fell victim to the pandemic.
The Rameau and J.S. Bach works planned for that program remained Sunday but the program was otherwise revised, adding music by Telemann, Praetorius and C.P.E. Bach. If the retooled “Heroes” theme seemed rather strained, the performances were consistently polished and inspired.
Quigley led the orchestra with alert authority and confidence, favoring fleet tempos and eliciting bracing textures. He managed to avoid the “bitty” feel of a suite-heavy program with over two-dozen sections that ran well over two hours (including intermission).
He also showed himself his own man with the stage setup, splitting winds and brass off from the string orchestra and placing them further back for better separation and a more congenial blend. Quigley was an engaging interlocutor as well, vamping easily without notes as the stage was reset after the first piece.
The program began with a collaboration with the South Chicago Dance Theatre in music from Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore.
The angular, sometimes violent movements of the eight female dancers suggested something of the quasi-feminist inspiration choreographer and troupe artistic director Kia S. Smith alluded to in an interview on MOB’s Facebook page. If the overall meaning of the choreography remained murky, the dancers’ movements were consistently well timed by Smith to the music, and all were supremely graceful individually and seamlessly coordinated as an ensemble.
The musicians usually get pushed into the deep background, visually and otherwise, with this kind of one-off confection. But Quigley led firmly focused, rhythmically buoyant performances of Praetorius’s retooled Renaissance dances—itself an early example of composers rediscovering “old music.” He also made sure to glance behind to confirm that the dancers were in position for the next section before proceeding.
Telemann’s suite from Burlesque de Quixote came 136 years before Richard Strauss’s tone poem depicting the title knight of the rueful countenance, with its vast orchestra, wind machine and Romantic excess. Yet, like Strauss, the suite from Telemann’s comic opera programatically paints various episodes from the title character’s saga.
Quigley and the musicians brought out the slender charms of Telemann’s score for strings without inflating the scale or overdoing the onomatopoeic haha. Yet the elements all came off, from the Don’s parrying sword thrusts to Sancho being tossed about in a blanket and the knight’s exuberant dreams of future misadventures.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was by far the most talented of Johann Sebastian’s musical progeny, and his Cello Concerto in A major was the centerpiece of Sunday’s concert.
The sterling solo advocacy by MOB principal cello Paul Dwyer showed that this is clearly a work that deserves to be cornerstone repertory for the instrument. The engaging outer sections offer brilliant opportunities for the soloist and the brooding slow movement seems to leap into a Romantic era that was still nearly a century in the future.
After a somewhat garrulous initial entrance, Dwyer proved a refined and distinctive solo protagonist, technically assured and handling the challenges with understated bravura. If he didn’t quite delve as deeply as he might in the dark melancholy of the Largo con sordino, Dwyer brought spacious eloquence to his own cadenza. The finale was scintillating as much for the quicksilver accompaniment by Quigley and the orchestra as for Dwyer’s own nimble and virtuosic solo work.
Surprisingly, the one performance that proved somewhat wanting came with Rameau’s Suite from Castor et Pollux. Quigley’s clarifying direction made the French composer’s individual touches stand out in this suite from his eponymous opera, as with the contrast between alternating piccolos and bassoons. Yet one wanted a wider and more nuanced range of dynamics and timbral hues, and one felt that the color and expressive potential of Rameau’s score was only partly realized. In a packed program like this, something was bound to suffer from limited rehearsal time.
Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 rounded out the concert. Quigley led a spirited performance that made for a notably fresh traversal of the familiar music. The opening Overture was majestic and imposing—estimable trumpet playing by Barbara Butler, Tage Larsen and Jordan Olive—yet shorn of bombast. The famous Air went with elegant expressive poise, a flowing tempo skirting sentimental excess.
Quigley took the final three dances attacca. The snappy Gavotte and jaunty Bourree led to a final Gigue with an extra bit of brassy swagger, concluding an exceptional afternoon of music-making.
The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Harris Theater. baroque.org
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