Few musicians are scholarly experts in a particular period and able to talk about it in an accessible and entertaining fashion, too.
When musicians turn on a microphone to talk before playing, it's often time to cringe. Egarr's jaunty introductions to the four pieces on the program were models of their type, however — informed, amusing, nontechnical and delivered in an irresistibly enthusiastic fashion.
As it happens, those are good descriptions of his music making, too. His account of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1 was all delectable lightness and fluidity from the 18 SPCO players, led by Egarr from the harpsichord.
A strong awareness of baroque phrasing and articulation infused the playing, without any of the irritating mannerisms sometimes encountered when an ensemble is trying to sound historically savvy. Piquant woodwind detail marked the Gavotte movement, and both the Overture and the Passepied had an elegant, courtly demeanor verging on sensual.
Modern instruments — smoother sounding and more rounded tonally — can never quite replicate the cutting edge and tang of their baroque equivalents. But in all other respects this was a superlatively stylish interpretation.
The suite of music that followed, from Georg Philipp Telemann's compendious Tafelmusik anthology, raised an age-old question: Why is Telemann generally less well thought of nowadays than Bach, who was considered his inferior in their lifetimes?
One word possibly explains it: melody. While Telemann's suite appeared full to bursting with clever rhythmic ideas and inspired bits of orchestration, its tunes were obstinately less memorable than Bach's.
The SPCO's performance was nonetheless dynamic and richly entertaining, Egarr filling in chords on the harpsichord and urging on the players with an impressive range of body language.
There was more Telemann after intermission in the shape of a Quartet for Flute, Oboe, Violin and Continuo, during which Egarr took a back seat on harpsichord as a team of SPCO soloists tucked into Telemann's virtuoso instrumental writing. The finale in particular was a helter-skelter of high velocity lick-making, as flutist Alicia McQuerrey, oboist Cassie Pilgrim and violinist Daria Adams jostled for musical pre-eminence.
Egarr took center stage once more for the concluding item in this weekend's program, Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No. 1, a work tailor-made for performance in a Leipzig coffeehouse that Egarr described as "a kind of intellectual Starbucks." His dazzling command of the demanding solo passages showed why he is one of the world's most highly rated keyboard players, and the SPCO strings accompanied crisply.
Egarr returns Jan. 31-Feb. 2 for a program of works by Castello, Muffat and Vivaldi. If you have any interest at all in baroque music, treat yourself now to a ticket.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.