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.
Henry Purcell died before completing “The Indian Queen,” and his brother Daniel wrote the concluding masque, wisely appended Friday night onto the end of the first half so as to conclude the evening with Henry’s far superior material. With a libretto based on the play of the same title by John Dryden and Sir Robert Howard, Purcell’s semi-opera has a convoluted plot that turns on the war between the Mexicans and Peruvians, but it features some remarkable choral writing worthy of the composer at the height of his powers.
Among the soloists, Zachary Wilder displayed a sweet-toned, if at times slightly pressed, tenor. And for many smaller (and not-so-small) roles, Christophers tapped members of the H&H Chorus, placing on view the considerable talent in its ranks these days.
On the first half Sonja Tengblad, filling in at short notice for Teresa Wakim, sang with crystalline tone and graceful musicality. (Jessica Cooper and Brenna Wells capably replaced Wakim on the second half.) Other standouts included sopranos Margot Rood and Erika Vogel, who teamed up winningly as Purcell’s “aerial spirits.” The orchestra throughout the night played with profile and zest.
Christophers should curate more evenings like this, particularly in Jordan Hall, which, compared with Symphony Hall, is more appropriately scaled to the music at hand.Jeremy Eichler can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Because of incorrect information provided to the Globe, a review of the Handel and Haydn Society misidentified a soloist in the first half of the concert. She was Sonja Tengblad.