English Chamber Orchestra

Since its founding in the 1960s, the English Chamber Orchestra has consistently played Baroque and 18th-century music with a lush intensity normally associated with high Romanticism. If you don’t follow the politics of classical music, you might not be able to imagine in how much contempt such an approach is currently held by the reigning ideologues of “historically informed performance”–who have decreed that early music must be played coldly and without inflection, as though written for an audience of periwigged automatons. (One prominent advocate of HIP has called emotionally expressive performances like the ECO’s “disgusting.”) Well, I don’t give a damn how ahistorical the ECO is; all that counts are the results, and some of the ECO’s recordings are among the most beautiful ever made. Its 1966 performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, conducted by John Barbirolli, is radiant, building unexpectedly to a heartbreaking climax, and its first recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (1969), conducted by Benjamin Britten, is rich, sunny, and exhilarating–compare it with the frosty and shrill English Concert set led by Trevor Pinnock, often put forth as a masterpiece of HIP, and ask yourself which holds more of Bach’s mysterious, inexhaustible joy. Recent CDs from the ECO haven’t quite been on the same level as its stuff from the 60s: though the musicianship is as good as it ever was, conductors as exalted as Barbirolli and Britten are pretty scarce these days. At the podium (and on the violin) for this performance is Pinchas Zukerman, with whom the ECO has made a fine recording of Bach’s violin concerti; on the program are Beethoven’s Second Symphony and his overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5, and a modern work by American composer Marc Neikrug. Wednesday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. LEE SANDLIN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.