Period performances, be it in concert or on recording, often still have an air of stern academicism as to what might be the correct way, volume and tempo in which to play early music. This matinee of the CBSO Baroque Ensemble in the orchestra's home, however, was pleasantly different and positively defied that stigma. In between dance music of better and lesser known English composers (some of whom were actually Italian or German), the five musicians took the opportunity of this much more intimate setting not only to introduce the music, but also their instruments in a witty fashion, which many curious audience members clustered around for a close-up inspection after the performance.

CBSO Baroque Ensemble © CBSO
CBSO Baroque Ensemble
© CBSO

And what a performance it was. The music of the 17th and 18th century is all about enjoyment for the ensemble, the concert announcement states, and after a somewhat rocky start, the players, joined on this occasion by lutenist Lynda Sayce, lived up to this expectation. It took the ensemble a couple of Locke's dances to bond together as a group, but they emerged with full-bodied sound in Purcell's beautiful G minor sonata. The two violins entered an intimate dialogue, whose quiet, subdued passages were particularly compelling, with individual melodic threads as thin as the strings of a spiderweb, but just as captivating.

"We hope this one gets your toes tapping," we were told as the musicians introduced their choice of movements from Nicola Matteis' Ayres in Three Parts, and the catchy melodies and gleeful interpretation made it hard not to. For even better effect, they had decided to exchange the order of the two last movements so that the skittish Scaramuccia, an allusion to the clown of the Commedia dell'arte, preceded the more spectacular Gavotte. It is a virtuoso showpiece for violin that appears to pick up speed as it goes along, it's filigree passages clear and clean and extremely appealing at the bow of Julia Åberg.

It was, however, second violinist Kelly McCusker who was the more present, perhaps more dominant personality of the two. From the very beginning, her tone appeared to be fuller, rounder and warmer, and the way she communicated with looks and smiles, the way she danced as she played and simply radiated happiness and enjoyment made her a constant centre of my attention. In Geminiani's "Bosh aboon Traquair", her violin soared up into the air, broke into song like a bird untroubled and oblivious of any worry. As if she had suddenly caught herself in joyful jubilation, she quickly checked herself, once more leaving the limelight to Julia Åberg.

With a vibrant, shining tone, she too shone in the lovely solo passages of Handel's Trio sonata Op.5 no. 3. While there appeared to have been several intonation or tuning issues with the cello during the first movement, from the Allegro onwards the musicians again presented themselves as a strong sonic unity, especially in the final movement – another Gavotte that was played with a beautifully balanced sound and plenty of verve and energy. As if it had been made for exactly this occasion, it showed off the beauty of every instrument and the musicality of its player. It also made for a magnificent close of a recital that was refreshingly different and presented with exuberant, contagious joy. Party like it's the 1690s!