Just exactly why it is that England can cough up incomparable Baroque orchestras with a consistency that other countries -- including our own -- are unable to match is a bit bewildering. The common preconception is that the Baroque really belongs on the Continent, though the National Gallery's "Treasure Houses of Britain" show may reduce that preconception to a misconception.
Last night marked the Kennedy Center debut of Trevor Pinnock's English Concert, commonly misspelled Consort -- an ensemble considerably smaller than, for instance, Neville Marriner's fabulous Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields.
Judging by last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, British Baroque is not only omnipresent but also omnipopular. How many other groups could pack the joint for their first appearance here? And without a sign of papering in the crowd.
The piece de resistance, Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" -- which is the most often recorded single work in the whole classical repertory -- has frankly become a drag for me. But last night's interpretation, done in pristine Baroque style, was of such vigor in the violin work of soloist Simon Standage and had such impetus in moments like the stormy finale of the "Summer" Concerto and the frenzied end of the "Winter" Concerto that I found myself getting excited about the music again. Pinnock used only 14 players in "The Four Seasons," but the refinement and precision of the ensemble playing were exceptional.
Admittedly, Pinnock's harpsichord playing was sometimes impossible to hear. But except in Bach's intense F-minor keyboard concerto, the instrument was seldom front and center -- a loss, given Pinnock's eminence as a keyboard artist.
Other works: Vivaldi's D-minor Oboe Concerto played with real character on a period instrument by David Reichenberg, and Corelli's celebrated D-major Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7.