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Music Review

Provocative Program of English Baroque

October 23, 1998|DANIEL CARIAGA

Delighting the senses and lifting the spirit are the outward, expected virtues of splendid performances. But other bonuses may occur: expanded perspectives and enlightenment.

These and more marked the opening concert in a third Orange County season by the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Tuesday night at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. One could revel in bright performances of works by Purcell and Vivaldi, but there was also great pleasure in unfamiliar pieces by composers of the English Baroque: William Corbett, Capel Bond and Charles Avison.

As usual, Nicholas McGegan, the ensemble's inspired music director, conducted a provocative program, and the 20 members of the flexible-sized ensemble met all challenges gamely. Enthusiasm ran high, accuracy could be taken for granted and there were no sagging moments.

Two orchestral concertos by Capel Bond (1730-1790) proved a particular discovery, handsome and suave pieces here given full expression. Two concertos from Corbett's "Le Bizzarie Universali"--titled "Al' Irlandese" and "Alla Milanese"--revealed an engaging musical individuality and gift for melody.

Avison's Concerto No. 6, based on keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, also titillated the ear. McGegan introduced the piece and added to our pleasure by reading a passage from Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" that referred to the work by name.

Throughout the evening, the playing emerged first-class and polished; at all times, the ensemble's balances remained transparent and intonation admirable. Best, and most musically energetic--though it would be hard to surpass McGegan's consistent ebullience--were the contributions of violin soloist Elizabeth Blumenstock, who stormed through Vivaldi concertos in E minor (RV 277, "Il Favorito") and D (RV 205) with grace, palpable intelligence, breathtaking speed and infectious good humor.

Blumenstock was taking the night off from her usual duties as concertmaster of the ensemble. In her place for this program was the resourceful, hardly less virtuosic Lisa Weiss.

A discerning audience received all these gifts with appropriate gratitude.

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