For half a century, the Cheltenham Festival, ceded by Michael Berkeley this year to the conductor Martyn Brabbins, has confirmed the town's impeccable music credentials. Its intimate Regency Pittville Pump Room remains - after London's Wigmore Hall - one of the most revealing chamber recital halls in England.
Now, Cheltenham has a top-notch Baroque orchestra of its own. The conductor Warwick Cole, a sensitive keyboard performer - his family makes harpsichords - and one of the region's most succulent cello continuo players, launched his Corelli Orchestra in 1989. Led by the Baroque violinist Sharon Lindo, whose track record includes The King's Consort, and with strings of the ilk of the Andrew Manze pupil Ben Sansom, it has blossomed. The Corelli looks set to produce, at its best, a gutsy sound with the teeth to challenge the European Baroque groups of Minkowski, Jacobs or Haim.
Cole's choice of repertoire suggests a sound, informed musicianship rooted in detailed study of 18th-century performance practice. His spare gestures are rounded and helpful; he enthuses; but - unlike some enthusiasts - his head rhythmically leads and anticipates, rather than just bobbing disconcertingly. As with Haim, the hands shape.
Cole, like his mellow Baroque flautist, Jonathan Morgan, clearly knows his Quantz, Zelenka, C P E Bach. He knows his Chevalier de St-Georges, too: an Op 11 symphony by the "Black Mozart" supplied a staggering start to Mozart in Paris, the concert that launched the Corelli's four-part Cheltenham series.
Vital, twangy violin tone (doubly superb in several telling pianissimi), controlled downbows, honed transitions and leads, spruce natural woodwind (despite hints of ropey mutual oboe tuning), bassoon/cello doubling and some vital a caccia horns enhanced the desirable sound of this energised Baroque-Classical ensemble. St-Georges has Mozart's gift of providing perfect support: his second-violin and viola lines were an education in themselves.
Duetting solo violins entranced, too, in the fascinating five-part concertante of Mozart's 1776 Serenata Notturna K239, eerily timpani-supported. Their final Rondo glistened. Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto K299 proved rockier, mainly because of the harpist Danielle Perrett's rhythmic-dynamic waywardness, though one better-synchronised, virtually alla turca soloists' exchange was truly galvanising. J C Bach's sprightly D major Op 3 Sinfonia - oboes and horns to perfection - rounded off.
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