'Romantic' is a term normally applied to heart-on-sleeve 19th-century music, but this evening's concert had me convinced that the real music of love is baroque. The venue was well-chosen for this evening of musical oysters; Wilton's Music Hall is beautiful, intimate and yet grandiose. The faded glamour of the music hall era was a wonderful backdrop to an evening of great variety, and anyone expecting The King's Consort to stay within the confines of the baroque period was to be quite surprised by what was in store – not quite 'Knees Up Mother Brown', but just as good...

The King's Consort, © Keith Saunders
The King's Consort,
© Keith Saunders

Founded in 1980 by its director Robert King, the group is known for its path-breaking recordings of rarely-heard gems of baroque music. King drew on his extensive knowledge of the dark corners of the repertoire to produce a programme cleverly structured around the 'seven stages of love': Innocence, Desire, Pursuit, Infatuation, Marriage, Offspring, and Discord (allowing for an eighth stage of Reconciliation so as not to end the evening on a downer). We had instrumental suites from Purcell's theatre music alongside vocal music both familiar and unfamiliar to complement each 'stage'.

Taking the part of the lovers were a long-time collaborator with the group, veteran countertenor Robin Blaze, and a relative newcomer, soprano Ruby Hughes, winner of the 2009 Handel Singing Competition and recently appointed a BBC New Generation Artist. Each exhibited a different approach to the music – Blaze even-toned, Hughes more operatically declamatory – but nevertheless combined wonderfully in the duet numbers, which were perhaps the most successful part of the night. The ever-popular final duet of Monteverdi's Incoronazione di Poppea, 'Pur ti miro', was predicatably gorgeous, if daringly slow as it wound down, with expressive and immaculately-tuned suspensions, and tasteful accompaniment from King's chamber organ and the excellent Lynda Sayce on theorbo. 'Infatuation' has rarely been so well portrayed as in Monteverdi's masterpiece.

Blaze's first-half arias were a lesson in baroque music's capacity to ravish the senses. The aria 'Yet can I hear that dulcet lay' from Handel's The Choice of Hercules responds to just such a feeling, as the hero comes to terms with the temptations offered by Pleasure, and pours out music of melismatic wonder. It was a finely-honed interpretation, no doubt on account of the recording made by the same forces some years ago of this charming and little-heard mini-oratorio (on Hyperion). 'Ombra mai fu', Handel's famous 'Largo', was much more familiar but no less well executed. Hughes responded with a lovely account of Gluck's 'O del mio dolce ardor' which brought her quite different strengths to the fore – a controlled pianissimo, expertly deployed.

In the more ambitious second half of the concert, things were not quite so assured. After another Purcell suite and Handel duet we were suddenly plunged into the rather more acid harmonic world of Michael Berkeley's Touch light. A commission for the group to play at a wedding, it made good use of the available forces and was certainly appropriate for this 'Marriage' segment of the concert, but despite the obvious influence of Monteverdi's duet heard earlier, it was perhaps too great a contrast with the rest of the evening's music. It was also not quite long enough for the ear to adjust to Berkeley's rather harsher harmonies and more extreme use of the voice.

'Offspring' gave the occasion for Hughes to deliver Campion's 'My love hath vowed he will forsake me' with all the poise, drama and irony appropriate for this tale of a naïve girl ill-used by a man. Mention should also be made of the fine and musical accompaniment of Lynda Sayce on the lute. After this, Blaze began to show signs of struggling, with Thomas Ford's 'Since first I saw your face' sitting rather uncomfortably on his passaggio. The Dowland that followed was similarly afflicted, lacking in his wonted clarity and ease in such repertoire. It was a little unfortunate that this part of the concert was labelled 'Discord' – however, it quickly yielded to the evening's finale, a rather surprising choice for a baroque group: classics of the American Songbook, wittily arranged by William Thorpe for strings and voices. Blaze tackled 'My Funny Valentine' bravely and humorously, but it was the duet numbers that left all with a smile on their face.

Throughout the concert, the band played with the sense of spaciousness and shape that we have come to expect from this King of baroque bands. All the musicians displayed great versatility, in an evening which in its variety and good humour sat proudly in the music-hall tradition of this fine building.