By Alan G. Artner
The Baroque Band gave an effervescent concert Friday night at Evanston's Music Institute of Chicago. Some of the fizz came from the program, which celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of Giovanni Pergolesi, while exploring the new and old in Italian music of the early 18th century. The rest came from ebullient, aerated performances by vocal soloists and the ensemble of period instruments. Pergolesi died at 26, the youngest of all composers who achieved legendary status despite modest attention in life. We remember him for comic operas and church music, both represented Friday. The Sinfonia from the seldom-heard "Lo frate 'nnamurato" and the famous "Stabat Mater" had in common a lean, bouncy charm new to Pergolesi's time. He wrote the "Stabat Mater" to replace another by Alessandro Scarlatti, which had come to sound old in up-to-date Naples. By presenting Scarlatti's Concerto Grosso No. 1, the band indicated his conservatism. However, the performance skimmed the surface rather than demonstrate how intense Scarlatti could be while following earlier models. The intensity of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" was better judged. Garry Clarke, Baroque Band director, called the score "excruciatingly beautiful." But Pergolesi generalized his music for the sorrow of the Virgin Mary, leaning only lightly on religious drama, so little was "excruciating" in Clarke's poised, often nimble account. Where some historically informed performances have a soprano and male alto, Clarke's had a soprano and mezzo-soprano. The singers made his choice convincing. Soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani occasionally -- unusually -- interpreted individual words, giving the end of her aria, "Vidit suum dulcem natum," deeper character. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane's dusky timbre persuasively shaded her darker solos, underlining their anticipation of late Mozart. Duets had ardor, warmth of rapport and a blending of timbres that sustained long phrases with discreet expression. The acceptance of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" throughout Europe was part of a larger vogue for Italian music caused by such figures as Antonio Vivaldi, whose chipper string Concerto in C (played to pick up steam on Friday) was one of several written expressly for Paris. The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan Ave. 312-235-2368.