Martin Adams reviews the English National Baroque Ensemble at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

 English National Baroque Ensemble
 National Concert Hall
 Reviewed by Martin Adams

Last night's concert at the National Concert Hall was a strange mixture of engaging presentation and performances which, at best, were patchy. The English National Baroque Ensemble consists largely of London-based orchestral musicians, though on this occasion the total of eleven strings plus keyboard continuo included four players from Dublin-based orchestras.

Much of the music sounded under-rehearsed and wanting a controlling hand. Anna Margolis (soprano) gave a reasonable account of Handel's superb aria "Piangero" from Giulio Cesare; but Gary Watkins (tenor) was not in sufficient control in the same composer's "Ombra mai fu". In most pieces the assertive orchestral playing lacked that crispness with detail and ensemble which makes this old-fashioned way of playing Baroque music persuade. Just think of the English Chamber Orchestra or the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Yet this was a cheerful concert, full of enjoyment at making music.

One performance which did persuade was of Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041, in which everyone was responsive to the firm-toned, rhythmically alert solo playing of the ensemble's leader, Peter Nall.

And it was good to hear the impeccably-turned sounds of the National Symphony Orchestra's Timothy Kirwan as the second violin soloist in Handel's Concerto Op. 6 No. 1.

By far the best performances were of Telemann's Viola Concerto in G and of Handel's Harp Concerto, Op. 4 No. 6.

In the first, authority was imposed by the extraordinarily rich viola sound made by Richard Crabtree, and by his firm shaping of detail. In the second, the fluid, strongly-projected playing of the NSO's principal harpist, Andreja Malir, was always pleasing; while justice was done to some of Handel's most decorative and relaxed music by orchestral playing in which everyone listened closely.