Academy of St Thomas, Alexander Baillie

FRANK CLIFF Salle Church


The oratorio Alexander's Feast having proved too short for an evening's entertainment, Handel extended it by adding a few extra works, one of which was the Concerto Grosso in C, afterwards known as Alexander's Feast.

It was this that began the concert by the Academy of St Thomas, directed by the distinguished cellist Alexander Baillie. However, it was hardly a musical feast for this Alexander who gave a disappointing reading of what is arguably one of Handel's finest instrumental works: one which didn't capture the music's exuberance and vitality, though the soloists coped well with the difficult concertino parts.

The other three works were, more successfully, directed from the cello: concertos by Boccherini and Haydn as well as a piece by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part. This was a set of variations for solo cello and strings in which Part creates an appealing and mesmeric sound world, whose tranquillity is occasionally interrupted by ominous interjections by woodblock and bass drum. Beautifully performed, it provided a perfect foil between the two concertos.

It was good to hear Boccherini's second concerto in D, which replaced the advertised and more familiar B flat concerto. Both this and the Haydn D major are vehicles ideally suited to Baillie's exuberant virtuosity: performances with an appealing freshness and spontaneity which well deserved the ovations they received.