CBSO/Haim, Symphony Hall Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

Baroque fans will know that Emmanuelle Haim's conducting is an astonishing sight. Lithe and birdlike, she swoops, swirls and slithers, her arms creating strange arcs. At times she seems to be kneading bread or measuring a tailor's dummy. For a pianissimo, a slight incline of neck or elbow or a twitch of her shapely rump will suffice.

And the results? Knockout. Long a hit at Glyndebourne, where her productions of Rodelinda and Theodora have drawn rapturous throngs, Haim learnt her art as a harpsichordist with the Baroque specialists Christoph Rousset, Marc Minkowski and William Christie. It shows. Armed with the CBSO's immensely versatile string principals, nifty woodwind and a programme of Bach and Rameau, she produced one of the most unforgettable concerts of Birming- ham's current season.

Symphony Hall is chock-full of machinery designed to create the ideal acoustics for any style of music. However, the canopy that is perfect for enhancing the sound of chamber music wasn't lowered, so Bach's first Brandenburg Concerto felt positively woofy at the outset, yielding not just a spring in the step but irrelevant echoes, too. Happily, the problem wafted away as the leader Jacqueline Hartley set to with her upward-tuned violino piccolo solo; if modern oboes never quite match the poignant baroque flavour, the CBSO's cavorted like true chevaliers.

And Rameau stole the day. Just two years younger than Telemann, two older than Bach, the Frenchman was a provincial organist in Dijon and Clermont-Ferrand, and had hit 50, before he wowed the Paris operatic stage in 1733 with Hippolyte et Aricie, the opera after Euripides and Racine that made his name. It's not just the thunder and wind machines that made Rameau the biggest stage hit before Gluck adapted the rules; it's the astonishing range and appeal of the melody, the lure of the harmonies, the sheer verve of the orchestration. Just a rigaudon and a hornpipe from this amazing score would suffice to suggest a composer of Purcell's stature.

Sarah Fox was the soloist, notably in an enchanting aria for Diana; she has an exquisite, sensitive voice and chooses her roles well, but her words and consonants were too fuzzy for a concert hall (though how do you articulate a line like "Forme tes noeuds, enchaine-moi!"?).

Some of the best moments in both Rameau and Bach, whose Third Orchestral Suite arrived laved in sparkling Ancien Regime hues, came from several astounding presto string unisons, and from Hartley's pairing with the second violin leader Briony Shaw: a stylish duo that set the standards for this ravishing concert.

Emmanuelle Haim conducts Charpentier's 'David et Jonathas' at the Barbican, Silk Street, London EC1 (020-7638 8891) on 27 March

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