In fact, Handel (who threatened to tower above the others) was almost outclassed, though the 10th Concerto Grosso of his Op. 6 collection is not the best of the bunch. Then again, the group’s search for ten-ness led to Telemann’s Orchestra Suite in E minor with the puzzling catalog number TWV 55: e 10, an absorbing exception to the composer’s often routine output.
The performance standard was extremely high. Tempesta di Mare has its ups and downs while eking out some semblance of personality and substance in works that perhaps are best left to gather dust in libraries. But hearing this group supported by excellent repertoire not only brought back memories of its best concerts, but at times surpassed them. It’s possible that cofounder Gwen Roberts, on baroque flute and recorder, has never played better; she was particularly scintillating in the Telemann suite. On a fine, double-manual harpsichord with a nice, fat-free sound, Adam Pearl played the Stanley concerto (which inhabited its genre without adding to it) with particular clarity of intent. Overall, concertmaster Emlyn Ngai led crisp performances with on-the-edge speed and unshakable security and, in the Leclair concerto, projected both structure and expressive content in ways that let listeners get beyond the superficial charm factor.
All those factors are particularly important with baroque music, which can seem merely quaint and orderly. Often, the music is an expression of personal liberty. Time and again, you heard Leclair setting up a particular pattern of phrases and then breaking away from it. For all its outward refinement, this music was often designed to thrill.
Even Alessandro Scarlatti, whose works sometimes stuck so close to the lingua franca of the day as to be uneventful to modern ears, seemed to be full of incident in his Sinfonia X, thanks to the performance’s rhythmic intensity. Vivaldi seems short-breathed when listeners are given too much time to think about the music — not the case in the Recorder Concerto in F (Op. 10, No. 5), which, in any case, had an arrestingly melancholic slow movement. The venue was woody and pleasant.
Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at firstname.lastname@example.org.