The current bout of frigid weather seemed almost made to order for the first half of the Handel and Haydn Society’s Jordan Hall program Friday night, directed by Harry Christophers. “Tho quiv’ring with cold we chatter and tremble,” sang the chorus in the Frost Scene from Purcell’s “King Arthur.” Moments before, the British bass-baritone Jonathan Best had charismatically sputtered out the pleadings of the Cold Genius (”I can scarcely move or draw my breath”), with the H&H Orchestra flicking staccato ice-crystals behind him. Not to worry, of course: Cupid, naturally, arrives to defrost the proceedings.
The scene was just one of many charming moments in a congenial evening that offered a sampler of Purcell’s dramatic works written for the London stage. Music from the rarely performed “Indian Queen” received top billing and was the focus of the second half, but Christophers seemed determined to find merriment along the way, opening the night with the scene of the drunken poet from “The Fairy Queen.” Here, Best stumbled his way onto stage and bent a rich, flexible bass-baritone around Purcell’s music of poetic inebriation.