I have to admit, it sometimes makes me a little nervous when a conductor steps on stage without a score. There’s enough that can go awry when 60+ musicians congregate in one place, without the conductor missing an entrance, miscuing the trombones, or taking a movement too fast.
But then there are the rare instances when a conductor inhabits a composer’s musical realm so intuitively and completely that having the notes to read would be superfluous. That was, without equivocation, the case with Jane Glover as she led the Music of the Baroque in a Mozart concert on Sunday in Evanston’s First United Methodist Church.
The two pieces on the program presented interesting bookends to Mozart’s life. The Symphony No. 29 was written in 1774, as the 18-year old took employ at the Archbishop’s court in Salzburg after having traveled to the far corners of the earth as a touring child prodigy. The scale is smaller than his later symphonies (pairs of oboes and horns as part of the minimal wind section, for example), a fact that was heightened by the squeaky-clean playing of the Music of the Baroque’s string sections, and in particular, the violins. Glover has gathered musicians with a completely unified vision of phrasing, articulation, ornamentation, tempo and intonation, resulting in a clarity that is more akin to chamber music than an orchestral setting. She certainly didn’t shy away from taking liberties with the score- a lugubrious ritardando before the first movement coda, or morendo B themes in the rollicking finale are just a few examples that come to mind- but Glover and her musicians remained on precisely the same wavelength throughout.
Containing the last notes that Mozart ever wrote, the K. 626 Requiem represents the other end of the composer’s life, a portentous mass for the dead that remains one of his supreme achievements. With the addition of a 25-member choir and four vocal soloists, the first two movements were admirably played by everyone on stage. Then came the Dies Irae.
In music that recalls Don Giovanni’s descent into the underworld, and even in some ways Verdi’s later setting of the same text, Mozart set the Dies Irae with as much hellfire and brimstone as he could muster. It kicked the Music of the Baroque musicians and choristers into high gear, and the clarity and drama that characterized the first half of the concert returned, sustaining and invigorating the rest of the Requiem. Whether in the touching Lachrimosa (a movement where one can see Mozart’s hand end and that of Sussmeyer take over in the score) or the powerful fugal Sanctus, Glover led the Music of the Baroque through a cohesive and erudite performance that came alive with a vitality and immediacy that captured the audience’s attention.