Corelli Orchestra, St Matthew's Church, Cheltenham

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The Independent Culture

One of the chief pleasures of Cheltenham's home-grown Corelli Orchestra is the imagination shown by its music director, the cellist and harpsichordist Warwick Cole, in assaying fresh Classical and Baroque repertoire and taking his audience with him. Not long ago it was the West Indian-Parisian Mozart contemporary Chevalier de St Georges; later comes the Dresden composer Heinich-en. And in its January concert at the Pittville Pump Rooms, it will embrace the music of the wayward Italo-French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully with his musical descendants Muffat and the Dean of the German 18th century, Hamburg's Telemann.

It was the Bach family who secured Leipzig over the heads of Telemann, Fasch, Graupner et al. - as the fast-emerging Baroque ensemble Phoenix Rising's scintillating recent Bach and his Leipzig Rivals tour confirmed; with comparable flair, for the Corelli's Christmas concert Warwick Cole plumped for not the Messiah, but "The Childhood of Jesus" by Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732-1795), conceived two months before Bach premiered his Advent Cantata "Sleepers Wake". The latter featured in the first half of the Corelli's concert.

But there was the odd first half moment when the sleepers needed to awake. Even from the harpsichord - and even better when conducting without, when he has a gift for expressive shaping, eloquent phrasing and eliciting the Bachian long line - Cole wears his players like a glove. The instrumental ensemble was impeccable, even if occasionally one looked for less accomplishment and more affect - perhaps more rubato. This emerged in glorious duetting by leader Sharon Lindo and her No 2,Veronique Matarasso, or with seconds leader Ben Sansom.

Had the choir given it the kind of welly Cole's super bassoonist, Nathaniel Harrison, brings to this music, the wonderful cantata "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern" by Johann Kuhnau might have emerged in all its glorious colours, but it was a fraction grizzled. Ditto even all bar two more waggish movements of the opening Corelli Christmas Cantata.

However, the JCF Bach swept all before it. The work revels in a wonderful, almost naive borderland between proto- and high Baroque and the Mozart of Mitridate. Its high point was a wonderful delivery of the optimistic young Mary's premonitory vision - "Sclummert sanft" - the loveliest of spiritual berceuses, clearly influenced by his father's immortal "Schlummert an". The fine, albeit less confident, bass Simon Birchall was no less affecting in the paraphrase of the Simeon's song (the Nunc Dimittis).