Kraemer/Forsythe/Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Review- An all-Handel program with soprano and chorus

On December 1st, 2016, in a performance to be repeated on December 2nd and December 3rd, Guest Conductor and Harpsichord Nicholas Kraemer led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a well-balanced all-Handel program- 3 selections of which were CSO premieres- at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan. Also participating were the Chicago Symphony Chorus led by Director Duain Wolfe and Guest Soprano Amanda Forsythe.

Conductor Nicholas Kraemer, soprano soloist Amanda Forsythe and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on December 1, 2016


Kraemer is a well -known British specialist in Baroque music – his repertoire also includes 19th and 20th century music -who directs from the harpsichord! Currently Permanent Guest Conductor of the Manchester Camerata as well as Principal Guest Conductor of Music of the Baroque, Chicago, he has held many important positions with orchestras, appeared all over the world with ensembles and operas, and has as impressive discography. He’s been called a conductor of verve, vigorous and polished. It was a delight to watch him- sometimes elegantly and energetically on his feet, calling forth the music; sometimes playing with his right hand, directing with his left; sometimes seated at the harpsichord, playing with the Orchestra- he was a powerful and vivacious leader and performer.


Award-winning American light lyric soprano Amanda Forsythe with these concerts marks her subscription debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A fitting choice for this concert, she is “particularly admired for her interpretations of baroque music”. Her recordings of Handel include “Orlando”, “The Messiah” and 6 arias on her “The Power of Love” album, upon which she based her 2015 tour. She was in exquisite voice during this program- clear, loud, precise and even, filled with poise and with a show-stopping range.

Conductor Nicholas Kraemer conducts The Chicago Symphony Orchestra from Harpsichord on December 1, 2016


The Chicago Symphony Chorus, which performs here, throughout the United States and abroad, is well-recognized as one of the finest ensembles in the world, was originally founded to accommodate the Orchestra for a performance of Handel’s Messiah in 1957; since then they’ve won 10 Grammy’s and recorded a wide repertoire of great music. Chorus Director and Conductor Duain Wolfe, now in his 21st season, is an award-winner who also serves an active opera conductor.


The program consisted of 5 pieces by George Frederic Handel, the first being “Zadok the Priest”, otherwise known as “The Coronation Anthem No. 1”, HWV 258, 1727, a British anthem composed for the coronation of King George II; it has been sung during the sacred anointing of every British monarch since that time.  The brief and poignant text is taken from a King James Bible passage describing the anointing of King Solomon. Sung with distinction by the Chicago Symphony Chorus, this work has been described as having “the most thrilling beginning in all music”. Indeed, the full Chorus belted out the tune in inspirational passion before the string section was joined by a triumphant burst of trumpets. With the singing of “Alleluia”, there was a flurry of quavers providing a resounding and thrilling climax.


Next on the program were the 3 CSO premieres in succession.

Concerto Grosso in B-flat Major, Op. 6, No.7”, HWV 325, 1739, in 5 movements, is part of a collection of 12 concerti grossi; unlike many of the others in that group, this was an entirely new composition  except for the final hornpipe, which was a derivation. This piece was the only one of the twelve composed for full orchestra and all the movements are brief. This is a lively and energetic piece of music, beginning with a largo, leading into the allegro fugue on a single note, followed by a primarily rhythmic piece; then follows a central harmonically complex largo succeeeded by two final movements : a steady andante and the bright syncopated hornpipe.

Conductor Nicholas Kraemer, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Amanda Forsythe on December 1, 2016


The final piece before the intermission, sung by Forsyte and The Chicago Symphony Chorus, was “Laudate pueri Dominum”, HWV 237, 1707, a sacred motet in Latin. This is an eight- movement cantata that covers a broad spectrum of Italian vocal styles and forms. Forsythe was adept, consistent, lovely and upbeat; the Chorus was resonant with beautifully nuanced phrasing in this vocal rendition of Psalm 112.


After the intermission, Amanda Forsythe sang the five-movement “Silete venti”, HWV 242, 1720’s, which is said to contain "all of the characteristics of Handel’s Roman church pieces". It was performed with spirit, fullness and warmth. The passages were sung with a dense particularity of phrasing. The work is rich and filled with variety, the orchestral portions articulate and incisive.


Finally, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented a rousing and stirring version of “The Music For The Royal Fireworks”, HWV 351, 1749, a “wind band suite” composed under contract for a firework’s demonstration in London’s Green Park that year to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the War of Austrian Succession. On initial performance, the fireworks display set fire to one of the pavilions! This five-movement piece begins with a ceremonial and deliberately imposing-some say pompous- "Overture", followed by a sprightly "Bouree", a quiet “La Paix” movement, "La Rejouissance" and 2 minuets. For this concert, the order was switched; one Minuet was performed both before and after the other- and the expressive and ebullient “La Rejouissance” was saved for after the Minuets. The music was exhilarating and exultant, a wonderful finale to a splendid concert.

Nicholas Kraemer conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with solo soprano Amanda Forsythe



For information and tickets to all the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s fine programs, including it’s Special Concerts and side series, go to the CSO website



All photos by Todd Rosenberg

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