There couldn’t have been a better correlation: bright trumpet fanfare lit up the opening bars of J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D Major, while behind towered the gold-gleaming 30-foot-tall effigy of the risen Christ at First Presbyterian Church. Baroque music was very much alive Saturday in the breathing and bowing of the Academy Chamber Orchestra under the playful direction of early music expert Nicholas McGegan. Hundreds of patrons packed the house in a copious reminder of the continuous community support for this year’s Music Academy Summer Festival, now heading into its final week. Despite nearly two months of full-time engagement and dizzying multitasking, these talented young instrumentalists betrayed no hint of burnout during this elegant, extensive program, which included a concerto by J. C. Bach, the Symphony No. 30 in C Major of Joseph Haydn, and a symphony by Felix Mendelssohn.
Maestro McGegan, director for more than 20 years of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, is an elfin presence who strikes a seemingly impossible balance between joy and rigor. McGegan’s animation is entertaining: He dances, leaps, and marches on the podium; his hands spread like wings, and he casts a smile over his shoulder now and again, as if to say to the audience, “Isn’t this fantastic!” There is absolutely nothing stuffy or sappy about his approach to “old music”; this performance was crisp, clean, and refreshingly dynamic. J.S. Bach’s famous “Air” from Suite No. 3, for example, held a lively meter that was free of romantic self-indulgence.
An audience favorite, the Sinfonia Concertante by J.S. Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian, featured four soloists — Benjamin Hoffman (violin), Caroline Kim (cello), Francesco Camuglia (flute), and Anahid Gregorian (oboe) — in balanced and confident dialogue. Completing the evening, Mendelssohn’s majestic Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, with the aching anticipation of its prelude and its triumphant brass-accented chorale, seemed to ring out with the gold of the altar piece and the possibilities of new life for chamber music.