THE audience at the Keswick Music Society’s Christmas Concert was greeted by the stage set for the theatre’s Christmas production of Beauty and the Beast - gigantic chests of drawers and a man-sized carriage clock, writes ROGER COOKE. Had they come on the right evening? Reassuringly, a harpsichord stood amongst the baroque furniture, and the stage was soon filled with musicians in colourful dress with period instruments and a joyful programme.

La Serenissma is an ensemble of 23 musicians, playing baroque string and wind instruments, timpani, the harpsichord and a theorbo - an elegantly long necked lute. They specialise in the music of the Venetian composer Vivaldi and his associates and contemporaries, including stars of the age such as Bach and Telemann, and others like Pisendel, Brescianello and Fasch, nowadays less well known but celebrated throughout the Europe of their time. Not only were they contemporaries, but were well connected by friendship, marriage and godfather-hood. Hence the title of the concert: The Godfather, and their name, by which the city of Venice was widely known; a feast of north Italian music was to be expected.

The concert was a fulfilment of this promise: from the opening piece for full ensemble, including the three trumpets, in the following two single-movement concertos for various combinations of instruments by Pisandel, to the Bach movement which concluded the first half of the concert,

The second half began with a concerto featuring the violin and the baroque bassoon. If the set suggested Beauty and the Beast, the question was: which instrument was which? In fact, as in the story, where the Beast’s gruff exterior is transformed into elegance and pathos, in the beautiful slow movement the bassoon was allowed to reveal its inner soul. Then a concerto by Vivaldi himself showed why he really was ‘the Godfather’ and the evening concluded with a rousing concerto by the composer Johann Friedrich Fasch, probably unfamiliar to many of the audience but clearly well worth seeking out.

We heard - and watched - dazzling violin playing from the director Adrian Chandler and stunning oboe and bassoon playing, and virtuoso playing by the strings, timps, trumpets. All, including the sweetly toned theorbo, given their moments to speak.

The audience were immersed and clearly loved both the music and La Serenissima’s vivacious and expressive presentation with Adrian Chandler’s pithy introduction to each item.

The bassoon will feature again in the society’s New Year concert on January 6, when Catriona McDermid will offer the freshness and delicacy of music for wind instruments by a wide range of composers, including Elgar, Britten and Poulenc, with Mana Shibata, oboe and Suling King, piano.