The Academy of Ancient Music's concert at Disney Hall was so full of familiar delights and played with such stylistic elegance, charm and sheer physical beauty that as an evening wore on, studded with big set pieces of by Handel and Bach, it was like hearing I Musici and Virtuosi di Roma for the first time in this repertoire in the 1950s.

Rowan Pierce © Gerard Collett
Rowan Pierce
© Gerard Collett

The AAM showed that to almost exquisite lengths in the upbeat Concerti grossi by Corelli and Handel. In the former's Op.6 no.7, they perfectly caught the characteristic Corellian blend of beauty and hope, with director and first violinist Bojan Čičić and others in the violin section flashing virtuosity both in solo riffs and fiercely coordinated unison passages. There was some extremely delicious decorating done especially in the violins but liable to break out anywhere in the 13-member ensemble even in unimportant inner lines. The Handel on the second half was more of the same, with adjustments made for his more expansive universe.

The second half with one of the AAM's calling cards, “Sound, sound the Trumpet” from Daniel Purcell's completion of Henry Purcell's The Indian Queen, silver-clad Rowan Pierce commanding throughout with an open-hearted full range sound that never seemed anything but young and glorious. The manner in which she decorated the da capo section with principal trumpet David Blackadder felt improvised and thrillingly so; it was the evening's most brilliant fun especially when they nailed their brief cadenza,

Pierce shone the whole evening. Her sprightly “Rejoice greatly” had been one of the highlights of the first half, her fast passagework immaculate and matched seamlessly by the six violins as if they were one. She held back decoration until it could make maximum impact, not as a contest but a legitimate dramatic device, and quite overwhelmed the audience which responded with their biggest applause of the night. She and Blackadder would close the concert with a knockout performance of Bach's Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! cantata and then did her best work of the night in her encore, Handel’s “Eternal Source of Light Divine”.

The evening opened with Mr Shore’s Trumpett Tune, always a great crowd pleaser, like hearing the opening of Masterpiece Theatre when it was still young and fresh. It gave Blackadder the first of many opportunities to show off his dexterity including a bit too many of those familiar cracked tones which some believe pass inauthentically for authentic trumpet noises, particularly as contrasted to the sweetness of the violins. When he returned in a D major concerto by Torelli, the results were smoother.

*****