For only the second time in its 31-year history, the British chamber orchestra known as the English Concert is traveling this season with a new music director, violinist Andrew Manze.
On Tuesday night, the ensemble returned to the Orange County Performing Arts Center -- this time to Founders Hall, the 300-seat forum adjacent to Segerstrom Auditorium. And in a bright and ear-opening program, it demonstrated that it still produces enlightened and spirited performances.
The program opened with a gutsy and thoroughly imagined run-through of Mozart's serenade "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (A Little Night Music) and ended with two gems from Vivaldi: the little-known violin concertos in E, RV 271, and in C minor, RV 202. In between were a suite by J.H. Schmelzer (1623-80) and a joyful concerto for four violins by Pietro Antonio Locatelli. Only Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K. 546, fell victim to uninspired play.
Manze seems to have revitalized the 18-member ensemble. Enthusiasm and high technical standards characterize the playing overall. The performers clearly are having a good time and constantly taking the measure of their own pleasure as well as one another's. Manze himself never lets down his virtuoso standards. In the concluding Vivaldi concertos, he found nuances, contrasts and details in abundance. He is spontaneous and unflagging. He has rightly been called a wizard.
A capacity audience cheered the British visitors roundly through what seemed a brief but substantial two-hour concert. Schmelzer's suite, "The Fencing School," introduced to some a practically unknown Baroque composer worth hearing more of. The four violin soloists in Locatelli's Concerto in F were Manze, Walter Reiter, Miles Golding and Rodolfo Richter.