At times, Sunday afternoon in the Crystal Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel, four concerti grossi by Corelli and Handel seemed like too much of a good thing. But works by Vivaldi and Purcell relieved the monotony, and the program was played with such stylish energy and appealing instrumental color by the Philharmonia Baroque Ensemble that the Chamber Music in Historic Sites audience loudly expressed its approval.
The concert opened with Handel's curiously brusque and dour Opus 6, No. 8, in a low-key reading by the San Francisco-based period instrument group, directed by Nicholas McGegan from the harpsichord. It took off when Vivaldi's relatively unfamiliar Concerto for Two Violins in D (RV 513) created a brilliant universe of high-flying trills and rapid figurations in which soloists Elizabeth Blumenstock and Katherine Kyme mostly excelled but occasionally sounded strained. Corelli's familiar Opus 6, No. 4, closed the first half, alternating attractively between graceful nuance and sturdy industry.
The second half was interpretively more assured, and contained the better music, too. Soloists Anthony Martin and Joseph Edelberg played Corelli's Opus 6, No. 11, with seductive tone and accurate intonation, the mysterious opening flourishes and wonderful, singsong allegro of Handel's Opus 6, No. 12, elicited ravishing work from Kyme and Blumenstock. McGegan's dry continuo accompaniment seemed an inadequate response to the demands of Handel's rich music.
After the concertos, the program closed with Henry Purcell's refreshingly unpredictable suite of tunes and dances for Dryden's play "King Arthur." This exhilarating, first violin workout was followed by an unusual encore, a Domenico Scarlatti harpsichord sonata orchestrated by the 18th-Century English composer Charles Avison, titled and played "Con Furia": like mad!