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Philharmonia Baroque Breathes Life Into History

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In its Southern California season’s second--and last--concert at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra concentrated on a sampling of 17th and 18th century concertos for strings. But, true to the well-established standards of these period-instrumentalists, the results far transcended the lesson in music history.

Throughout Tuesday’s program, conductor Nicholas McGegan led the 21 players in vibrant readings, enlivened by affectionate characterizations, synchronic phrasing and fine gradations of soft dynamics. Five violinists and two cellists from the ranks formed the solo groups, all well-matched in ability to etch delicate, animated lines.

Among the protagonists, those in three works by Vivaldi stood out. For his Concerto for Violin with Three Echo Violins, in A, RV 552, Lisa Weiss, Anthony Martin and George Thomson were placed far from Katherine Kyme, enabling them to second her refined and colorful statements with marked antiphonal effect and a hint of mystery. The same foursome, rearranged on more equal footing, lent captivating energy to their task in the Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, RV 580. As the lone violinist against two accompanying ensembles, in the Concerto for Violin and Two Orchestras, in B-flat, RV 583, Weiss disclosed affecting mood contrasts and gutsy insistence.

The band brought similar enthusiasm and finesse to works by Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti and Locatelli, standing in apparent deference to the spirit of the moment. Even harpsichordist John Butt kept to his feet, while improvising tasteful, imaginative continuo realizations, complemented by David Tayler, on theorbo.

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