Music of the Baroque’s ‘tour’ full of delightful variety

Four countries in less than two hours.

No, it was not a travelogue or episode of The Amazing Race.

More satisfying, it was “Baroque Journey,” the program Nicholas Kraemer launched Sunday night with Music of the Baroque at the First United Methodist Church in Evanston.

It certainly did not imprint national styles that single concerts can do little more than sample. But by presenting music written within 50 years in Italy, England, Germany and France, Kraemer emphasized the period’s variety. And by crisply articulating not always well-known pieces by five masters, MOB recreated the different sound worlds as convincingly as possible on modern instruments.

Giving special delight was a suite from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera, “Dardanus.” Much of the music was for dancing, which contrasted with “purer” instrumental pieces by Arcangelo Corelli, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi. Rameau’s rich, brightly gilded color is singular, and Kraemer elicited the right degree of firmly sculpted tone while contributing a playfulness that had him making the final stroke on a tambourine with the side of his head.

Surrounding pieces had string and wind soloists from the orchestra playing at strength. However, Telemann’s Concerto in E minor for Recorder and Flute brought guest Amy Pikler to tootle alongside flautist Mary Stolper. The effort each exerted to remain equals, neither receding nor overwhelming, was admirable. But it was also felt as effort, and mainly in the closing Presto abandon took over from care, communicating spirit more than obstacles surmounted.

Kraemer, conducting from the harpsichord in all but the Rameau, additionally offered comments. Some, as in telling us to “sit forward and tense up” for the dissonances of Henry Purcell’s Pavan and Fantasia Upon a Ground, were helpful. Others, such as identifying a movement of Telemann’s Quadro in B-flat Major as music from his wedding, belonged more on Facebook.

The unforced quality of his leadership was, however, felt throughout, giving piquancy in the closing Four-Violin Concerto (Op. 3, No. 10) by Vivaldi without excess showiness.