Belmont Ensemble, St Martin In The Fields, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

New year is when the main concert halls go mushy or shut up shop, and audiences are forced to look elsewhere. The result is that lovely venues that are ignored for the rest of the year briefly come into their own. But where better to listen to Baroque music than in a Baroque church? Since court music of the 18th century was first and foremost a matter of sensory delight, it makes sense to give that delight a visual component: to let the eye wander over sculptural and architectural beauties, while harmonic intricacy beguiles the ear.

Welcoming us to their home patch, the Belmont Ensemble instilled seasonal cheer with a glass of mulled wine; with Trafalgar Square all but deserted, the church was filled to capacity with a multiracial, all-age audience. Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was the opener played with gusto by this band of young female string-players (plus one token Asian male), conducted from the harpsichord by Peter G Dyson.

The Belmont was formed to offer young musicians professional work at that difficult time between leaving conservatoire and joining a big orchestra: over the past 15 years it has offered brief sanctuary to many musicians who have later gone on to kosher success, but in doing so it's achieved kosher success of its own. Its Classic FM links and "easy listening" trademark should fool no one into thinking it is anything less than a very good chamber group.

And if it wound up with two of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, it also gave us his rarely-performed concerto Il Riposo per il Santissimo Natale, with the solo being played by Anna Bradley. This versatile performer is able to deliver Vivaldi's high filigree work with melodious charm. Then came a rarity by Vivaldi's precursor Torelli, the grand Christmas Concerto Op 8 No 6, with the second solo violin part taken by Pippa Harris.

If Bach's double violin concerto seemed matter-of-fact, that was probably because we had too many Menuhins and Oistrakhs ringing in our ears. In Corelli's Christmas Concerto, Bradley's playing was brilliantly offset by that of her (un-named) leading cellist. Belmont's "concerts by candlelight" at St Martin's continue over the next two months.

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