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Much the same resourcefulness and quickness of mind that characterize the Italian period-instrument ensemble Europa Galante’s performances of Baroque music evidently carry over into the way violinist Fabio Biondi’s vibrant group conducts its business affairs.

When Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of numerous flights out of New York City earlier this week, including one Biondi and friends were to have taken from LaGuardia to O’Hare to fulfill their concert engagement at the University of Chicago, they snapped into action, renting two cars that enabled them to safely reach their destination, some eight hundred miles away.

The touring contingent of five musicians presented one of the first classical concerts in the Performance Hall of the new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts on Tuesday evening. This was the first collaboration between the Latino Music Festival and the University of Chicago Presents concert series.

Europa Galante and the physical and acoustical intimacy of the center’s handsome new, 474-seat concert room proved a felicitous match.

So good is the sound, in fact, that the instrumentalists – playing violins, cello, theorbo (lute) and harpsichord – always were warmly yet clearly “present,” even in passages where Biondi, who led the performances from the violin, took dynamics down to a whisper.

With an acoustical design overseen by the Chicago firm Kirkegaard Associates, the hall has adjustable acoustical drapes that make it suitable for everything from speech to music. Its beautiful, wood-paneled interior and comfortable, terraced setting are further advantages. This is a wonderful boon for an area that has lacked a chamber music and recital hall with first-rate acoustics for music: a performance space that sounds as beautiful as it looks. I can’t wait to hear other classical artists, local and visiting, perform here.

Tuesday’s program showed the fluid interchange of musical styles and influences among Italian, Spanish and French musicians active in the Baroque era. The virtuosic violin playing of Biondi was one common denominator. Each half of the concert was anchored by a different set of variations on the familiar Baroque form known as the folia (or follia, as it was known in Italy).

A lesser group performing both Arcangelo Corelli’s sonata La Follia and Antonio Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata in D minor, which is based on the same Baroque greatest hit, might court musical overkill, but not Europa Galante. Biondi’s violin playing was both finely poised and electric in both works: full of energy, but never aggressively so, always elegant of phrasing and refined of tone.

His colleagues in the Corelli – Antonio Fantinuoli, cello; Giangiacomo Pinardi, theorbo; and Paola Poncet, harpsichord – had plenty of opportunities to shine on their own, which they seized on with comparable zestiness. In the Vivaldi, Biondi and violinist Andrea Rognoni engaged in dueling bursts of passage work, yet never did their quick tempos bring a sense of scrambling. One could not fail to appreciate the subtlety and grace of Biondi’s melodic embellishments.

The five players brought further refinements of phrasing and articulation to Francois Couperin’s trio sonata Parnassus, or the Apotheosis of Corelli, a charming homage from one master to another. Typically Biondi would make a sudden swell or fade, giving the line a quick dramatic jolt that always felt in character with the French style.

Much the same rhythmic vitality and lucidly articulated and balanced textures that marked the readings heard earlier also animated works by the more obscure composers Michele Mascitti, an Italian who gained fame at the French court in the early eighteenth century; Francisco Jose de Castro, a Spanish nobleman and musical amateur who worked in Brescia, Italy; and Jose Herrando (1680-1763), the leading Spanish violinist of his day.

Both Mascitti’s violin sonata Psyche and Herrando’s Sonata for violin and basso continuo are delightfully programmatic works, the former depicting the mythic love story of Psyche and Eros, the latter evoking the birds and other natural sounds of the Spanish royal palace gardens at Aranjuez. Biondi and friends tossed off all the chirpy, stormy sound effects with conspicuous panache. The same held true for their account of Castro’s trio sonata Trattenimento, which had the two violins intertwining in flourishes reflecting Corelli’s stylistic influence on the young Spaniard.

The encores consisted of some battle music by one Marco Cellini and Jean-Marie Leclair’s Tambourin.

John von RheinChicago Tribune