Wigmore Hall, London
British classical ensembles are full of musicians playing brilliantly while looking morose, so in some ways it's a shock to encounter Apollo's Fire – or the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, under a more poetic name. This was the ensemble's first UK appearance, and the enthusiasm with which it presented itself was not so much infectious as virulent.
It was founded by Jeannette Sorrell, who directs from the harpsichord and introduced the pieces in little speeches – as did the British soprano Sophie Daneman, who had four arias plus an encore. The main programme culminated in Vivaldi's La Folia, an unavoidably self-conscious letting-down of hair that had the violinists lunging at one another in mock-sparring gestures, before a slower passage inspired one of them to down her instrument and engage in a spot of baroque dancing (which was anything but spontaneous).
The playing was too good to need the cheesy dressing up, despite the informality extending occasionally to the violin tuning; the upbeat numbers were every bit as alive as Sorrell obviously intended. In slower items, tempos were supple, occasionally to the point of sagging; one example was Dido's Lament, in which an overly expressive Daneman made Purcell's peculiarly British heroine – expiring even as she claims she doesn't want to cause trouble – sound a bit of a drama queen. Elsewhere, Daneman's gleaming, soft-edged soprano was as vivid as the orchestra in Vivaldi, Handel and Rameau.
The one unfamiliar name on the programme, René Duchiffre, turned out to be the nom de plume of one of the cellists, a "composer in historical styles". His Proserpine: Symphonie Dramatique referenced mostly Vivaldi but also Pachelbel – the final movement was two chords short of a Canon.
Whether this kind of pastiche, however accomplished, has a place on the Wigmore Hall platform is a moot point. A British ensemble would at least have had the grace to look grumpy playing it.
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