For anyone looking to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with class and style (a packed Symphony Hall indicated that many were) Saturday’s concert by the Academy of Ancient Music ticked all the right boxes.
Considering the programme (Handel’s Royal Music) and those involved it could hardly go wrong. Here was music perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the moment – the four Coronation Anthems, selections from the Water and Royal Fireworks suites, and two ‘Messiah’ choruses – being performed by one of Europe’s leading period-instrument ensembles.
Some purists might have taken issue with Richard Egarr’s semaphoric conducting instead of directing from the keyboard, and the 21-voice Choir of the AAM – surprisingly punchy considering its size – sang with more Received Pronunciation than the tangy accents of the 18th century; but in other respects it was deliciously authentic.
Particularly impressive were the string players, who used virtually no vibrato but sensitive bowing to produce notes that blossomed and wilted like flowers. Woodwinds, as expected, added pungent colour and edge (the contrabassoon, not folded over like its modern counterpart, looked and sounded suitably monstrous); and valveless horns and trumpets rasped, brayed and bubbled (in the trills) with barely a split note between them.
There was also a sense of fun, notably in the two suites when allegros flew and crackled, and the players clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves. The anthems, too, showed a remarkable level of eloquent singing and playing and sounded wonderfully uplifting.
So, a good time for everyone, which will be repeated several times. For once Birmingham was first in line for this seven-concert European tour. London will have to wait until September.