Rembrandt Chamber Musicians “Holiday Baroque” Concert Review – A Chicago Tradition

Barbara Keer
Splash Magazines

Neither snow nor…kept a very enthusiastic, loyal audience from coming to attend the Rembrandt Chamber Musicians “Holiday Baroque” concert in the glorious setting of Northwestern University’s Alice Millar Chapel. Rembrandt’s annual Holiday Baroque concert is a Chicago tradition that truly signals the beginning of the holiday season.  Those who attended were rewarded with some of the season’s most beautiful baroque music, including Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, a Bach cantata featuring the sparkling artistry of soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, and Bach’s Italian Concerto, performed by renowned harpsichordist David Schrader.

Beautiful Alice Millar Chapel, Photo: Darron McNutt

The program presented these carefully chosen works.

BACH: Italian Concerto, BWV 971

This concerto was a new invention recently arrived from Italy at the time Bach presented it.  Program notes share the opinion of a critic writing in1739 that this work is “a perfect model of a well-made concerto, but at the present time there are few or practically no concertos (with orchestra) of such excellence.”

What a treat this was to hear this solo by David Schrader on the harpsichord.

The concert, Photo: B. Keer

CORELLI: Concerto Grosso in G minor (Christmas Concerto), Op. 6/8

This work was composed for Christmas Night and is the most popular among a set that Corelli composed. Performers were -John Macfarlane, Renée-Paule Gauthier, Karyn Macfarlane, violin; Carol Cook, viola; Mark Brandfonbrener, cello, Collins Trier, bass and Stephen Alltop, harpsichord. The blending of these instruments was beautiful.

BACH: Non sa che sia dolore, BWV 209

First performed in Leipzig in 1747, it is scored for solo soprano voice, flute, two violins, viola and basso. Josefien Stoppelenburg’s singing was enhanced by Sandra Morgan’s bravura flute interplay that was stunniing.  The support of  Renée-Paule Gauthier, violin; Carol Cook, viola; Mark Brandfonbrener, cello; Collins Trier, bass; Stephen Alltop, harpsichord also blended  perfectly with the singing. and completely captivated the audience.

 Josefien Stoppelenburg and Rembrandt Chamber Players, Photo: Darron McNutt


HANDEL: Organ Concerto in B-flat major, Op. 4, no. 2

It is interesting to note that Handel’s concertos were designed to display his own virtuosity and included an improvised voluntary.  The was a wonderful piece in which the skills of Robert Morgan, Peggy Michel, oboe; Dennis Michel, bassoon; John Macfarlane, Renée-Paule Gauthier, violin; Carol Cook, viola; Mark Brandfonbrener, cello; Collins Trier, bass; and Stephen Alltop, organ shown.  The role of the organ was particularly noteworthy.

Enthusiastic audience, Photo: B. Keer

BACH: Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, BWV 1066

This work has an especially interesting history. Although it was thought to be performed around 1729 in Leipzig, it soon disappeared when audiences regarded it as “old fashioned”. Amazingly, it was Felix Mendelssohn that revived this work in 1838, so it was not published until 100 years after the composer’s death.

The wonderful musicians are applauded

The audience greatly appreciated this work that featured: Robert Morgan, Peggy Michel, oboe; Dennis Michel, bassoon; John Macfarlane, Renée-Paule Gauthier, violin; Carol Cook, viola; Mark Brandfonbrener, cello; Collins Trier, bass; Stephen Alltop, harpsichord.  A rousing applause greeted the performers as the concert concluded.

One of the special features of Rembrandt is the opportunity to visit with the performers at a reception following the performance.  This reception was perfect as a start to the holiday season.

Founded in the fall of 1990, Rembrandt Chamber Musicians features seven of the most highly accomplished musicians in the Chicago area, including principal members of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Music of the Baroque, and the Chicago Philharmonic. The ensemble’s expansive repertoire, ranging from historically informed performances of baroque classics to contemporary works by local composers, has consistently garnered high praise and recognition.

More information about the Rembrandt Chamber Musicians

Note:Calum Cook (cello) was brilliantly replaced by Mark Brandfonbrener on all pieces for this concert due to a back injury. We wish Calum a speedy recovery.

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