By M.L. Rantala, Classical Music Critic
Composers will often say that music is all about the sound. But it has not been called the poetry of time for nothing. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, an Italian who died in 1736 at the tender age of 26, contributed his greatest work in the poetry of time shortly before his death. His Stabat Mater, a reflection on the suffering of the mother of Jesus as he was crucified, is a gorgeous example of the power of music, its power to make us cry and reflect, its power to help us realize sorrow and joy, its power to help us to see beauty in a world suffused with pain and anguish. Garry Clarke, the director of Baroque Band, appears to conduct it in performance in the same way he leads it in all other matters: with his feet constantly moving. For the Stabat Mater he enlisted the voices of two stunning singers and put down his own instrument in favor of the services of an elegant lead violinist who played with flair and controlled passion. Soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane brought their A-games to the Hyde Park Union Church on Saturday night, giving voice to Pergolesi’s splendid work. While things got off to an inauspicious start when Lane’s pitch wobbled, she quickly righted herself, although I wasn’t satisfied with her tendency to let consonants completely disappear. But there were certainly no native speakers of Latin in the audience to deeply offend. Kampani’s soprano was gorgeous: simple, clean, clear-toned. She brought a powerful intensity and focus to the music. In her section 6 aria, she beautifully exploited the dynamics of the piece. All the big changes in volume and tempo were expertly rendered both by her and the orchestral ensemble. Lane’s voice was rich and full, with a dark maturity. She and Kampani were a well-chosen pair whose voices blended nicely together in the many duets. They deftly built on the natural drama of the piece, all the way to the concluding “Amen,” which they rendered powerfully. Lane was decked out in a jacket that would make even a bullfighter in Madrid blush – a collection of dazzling, spangly bits and bangles in red, yellow and black, the intensity of which dwarfed her simple black skirt. Kampani was dressed more modestly, with a smart tunic top of muted maroon accented in muted gray over a sadly all-too-drab gray skirt with echoes of the maroon. Pergolesi’s work closed out the concert, and the audience, which continues to grow for this fledgling group not yet three years on the Chicago scene, gave them loud and extended applause – requiring the artists to make repeated curtain calls. The concert also opened with music of Pergolesi. The Sinfonia from “O frate innamurato” was charming as Clarke made the opening allegro a frisky matter. British violinist Pierre Joubert made his debut with Baroque Band playing in the number one violin slot. (It seems wrong to call him first chair when all the musicians whose instruments allow it actually stand during performances. Maybe we can call him “first feet.”) Joubert’s expert phrasing was put on display in the middle movement as he made the most of his extended solo. The closing allegro featured lovely low voices in the orchestra bouncing about with alacrity. Allesandro Scarlatti’s concerto Grosso No. 1 in F minor was also splendid. Fine balance, crisp attacks, well-controlled ebbs and flows all characterized the performance. The penultimate movement ends on a question mark, and Clarke moved to the final section, holding the answer, with perfect timing. The Baroque Banders came galloping right out of the box for Vivaldi’s concerto in C Major. The middle section opened with a couple of beautiful little cascades from David Schrader’s harpsichord. And then the piece culminated with the same galloping that got it started. Baroque Band returns to Hyde Park on March 6 for their third subscription concert of the season, “the Grand Tour: An Englishman’s Education.” Works by Telemann, Handel, Albinoni and Corelli are on the program.