It's 8 o'clock and 27 degrees on the second-hottest night of the year. The air has a limpid, hushed quality. We've left our bikes in Brasenose Lane after one of those languid cycles through town which are unique to evenings in high summer. Turning into the chapel at Exeter, the first impression is of the strangeness of light: the gloom of the antechapel bleeds into a bazaar of colour in the chapel itself, all bold primaries and vivid lines. This is the quintessence of Oxford summertime.
Arrayed on the dais at the chapel's far end are a harpsichord – its under-lid painted with a summer river scene – and several candelabra. A man appears from a curtained side-room and lights the candles, quietly. One almost expects him to be periwigged, but Kah-Ming Ng is dressed in discreetly modern attire. Director of Charivari Agréable, he takes his place at the harpsichord, joined shortly onstage by Lucia Capellaro on baroque cello, Oliver Cave on baroque violin and Dan Watts on (yes) baroque flute. Cave and Watts gain, from my vantage point, the pleasing backdrop of the chapel's Burne-Jones tapestry.
And they're away. Opening, a Quantz Trio blossoms into the evening; Ng's harpsichord punctuates through the sylvan sounds of Watts' flute and the light-as-soufflé violin from Cave; Capellaro provides an instinctive and generous bassline (and, in the second half, a resplendent solo in a Geminiani Sonata). This type of baroque chamber music is mesmerisingly evocative; glancing around the audience (choirstall seats allow me to do so) I notice a third have their eyes closed, the better to concentrate on the particular world this quartet conjures. Others let their gaze drift upwards like smoke from censers. It is intensely agreeable.
It is also a revelation to watch such an illustrious group perform. Cave and Watts have a particular musical chemistry; Watts has an appealing habit of fluttering his eyelids while playing, and Cave has a congenial, give-and-take style of performing. For me, the group's ability was best showcased in Telemann's Trio sonata in E minor (TWV 42:e2), which sparkled like a candle, a comforting warmth provided by Capellaro's cello. Ng bounces at the harpsichord, inhabiting the music entirely. This is as close as we can get to 18th-century timetravel; and the pure instinctive musicality of the ensemble makes this a far more convincing experience than fancy-dressed fops in nylon wigs could provide.