Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. Photo by Randi Beach

Conductor and harpsichordist Richard Egarr, Music Director of England's Academy of Ancient Music, is making his debut with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in their first concert series of the year with a program called "English Masters of the Baroque." Egarr, introduced each piece with a humor-tinged anecdote, and though I sometimes didn't hear what he said we would, I nevertheless found him to be a warm, engaging presence and a thoughtful conductor.

The first half of the program began with a brisk, lively performance of Handel's Symphony from Saul, with especially fine playing from concertmaster Lisa Weiss and principal oboist Marc Shachman during the fourth movement. This set the tone for the remainder of the concert, which seemed to fly by despite having seven pieces on the program. Matthew Locke's Music From the Tempest began with a storm and ended in a round and was followed by Purcell's suite from The Fairy Queen. Both pieces were played with the same vigor as the Handel and I was particularly entranced by David Tayler's theobro- an instrument I've never seen before which is kind of like a lute version of Jimmy Page's double-neck guitar.

The second half of the program began with Thomas Arne's Concerto for Harpsichord No. 5 in G minor featuring Egarr as soloist and conductor. There was a roughness in the rhythm of Egarr's playing, but having never heard the work before, I can't say if that was the design of the composer or the result of some very tricky passages requiring cross-hand playing. William Lawes' brief Consort Sett in Six Parts No. VII in C major followed, featuring paired violins, violas and cellos in two movements- a Fantasy and an Aire. It was the only work on the program I really couldn't find a way into, perhaps due to its brevity and my own inexperience with the form.

Two marvelously played pieces by Handel closed the program. The first was the Concerto Gross in D minor, which featured brilliant turns by each section of the orchestra, with many of its members visibly enjoying themselves. The concert concluded with the "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from Solomon.

There are two more performances this weekend at First Congregational Church in Berkeley. Philharmonia Baroque's next series of concerts will be in March and feature Steven Isserlis in works by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms.