The London Handel Players should be applauded for many things, from their characteristically warm and full sound through to their consistently thoughtful approach to how they play. Never are there any clichés of the early-music movement, adopted without question – the predictable treatment of syncopations; the uniform swelling of long notes – but rather a highly considered detailing of each and every corner of the musical palaces they inhabit. Neither are these high-minded or contrived readings though, instead always giving the impression of fluid, natural, and joyously social playing at every moment – a pleasure to listen and a treat to behold.

Rachel Brown © C Christodoulou
Rachel Brown
© C Christodoulou

King Frederick the Great was himself a keen flautist and employed both notable flute players and composers to fill his courts with music. Perhaps the most celebrated member of this royal roster was Johann Sebastian Bach's second (surviving) son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. As one of the seminal figures in the transitional styles between the High Baroque and Classical periods, C. P. E. Bach's works often typify the overtly expressive Empfindsamer Stil (literally, sensitive style), such as the dramatic and turbulent Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress). The D minor flute concerto is a fine example of this theatrical writing and requires extreme virtuosity and exquisite refinement in equal measures. (Indeed, so difficult is his writing in several of the extant concertos for flute that transcriptions exist for cello and harpsichord instead, in order that the music was not wasted.) Rachel Brown as soloist provided all this and more, captivating the audience with her notably varied tonal palette, ranging from the impressively strident to the unimaginably delicate, seemingly stopping the hearts of all who listened in her cadenza to the second movement.

Adrian Butterfield found similar magic, however, in the second movement cadenza to Leclair's violin concerto in F major (Op. 7, No. 4): as the texture thinned away, there was an atmosphere of ascent, as both body and soul seemed to lift heavenwards.

J. S. Bach's fifth Brandenburg concerto then offered Terence Charlston his opportunity to shine, in the brilliant harpsichord cadenza of the first movement. Having accompanied so sensitively and stylishly all evening, the magnitude of this extended solo display was amplified, and Charlston found clever ways of filling this extra space: subtle ritenuti here and there, lifting one higher before the inevitable fall; dramatic accelerandi, working from the ponderous to the terrifyingly climatic, in turn revealing hidden voices in the counterpoint. This was playing of the highest order and came at the end of what had been a staggering programme.

However, it was the sociability of this music-making that was always so impressive, a reminder that there is no 'I' in 'team'; always playing with the utmost friendliness and marked by its conviviality, the result was an infectious one, with the audience singing and dancing as they left, as if all had been shown the secret behind this extraordinary music.