Formerly the Camerata of St. John’s, the newly-named Camerata has grown exponentially in recent years developing from a tiny chamber string ensemble presenting in small spaces to now performing regularly in the 2,000 seat QPAC Concert Hall. Moreover, the programme has become increasingly diverse and adventurous with the inclusion of its own local Quartet-in-Residence, the Orava, the partnership with prominent local wind, brass and percussion artists to widen the repertoire offerings and, more recently, the engagement of prominent overseas-based Australian musicians as soloists.
Encouraging a younger audience to classical music has often been seen as a steep and difficult path. However, at Saturday evening’s packed concert hall for the Classique programme, Camerata showed why it managed to attract an audience in excess of 16,000 during 2016. Here was a carefully considered and balanced programme, beautifully presented and radiating professionalism and polish. Atmospheric lighting assisted to show off well-played music by artists who clearly love their craft, their enthusiasm shining through every pore of their collective being to gain an infectious hold on a captivated audience.
The Classique program cleverly juxtaposed two traditional classical-era pieces by Mozart and Mendelssohn with two 20th-century Russian works by Prokofiev and Stravinsky, both pieces strongly demonstrating the latter’s links to the neo-classical form. And, as is the tradition with Camerata, each concert includes a ‘wild card mystery segment’ with this one being the youth choir of the Voices of Birralee, who sang two moving songs, The Ground and You, Me and the Open Sky from their forthcoming ANZAC centenary visit to Villers-Bretonneux in north-west France.
Camerata presented Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No 1 for the first time in its history, augmenting the core 19 string players with the addition of some of Brisbane’s finest wind, brass and percussive musicians. This charming work was played with a sparkling touch and some fun and quirky phrasing, as Prokofiev no doubt intended with his nod towards the short 18-century symphonic structure. The bright and breezy opening of the Allegro con brio produced excellent work from the woodwind and brass while the Larghetto movement with its ballet music theme was sumptuous and stately. The Gavotte’s dance music and the colourful racy Finale were interpreted with flair and imagination.
Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite is not a favourite of this reviewer but the interpretation and delivery by an augmented Camarata was enjoyable, telling the Pulcinella story with much humour and attention to detail and bringing out the orchestral colour and movement of the full ballet. Leader of the Camarata, Brendan Joyce, took a step back, allowing three members of the Orava Quartet, Daniel Kowalik, David Dalseno and Thomas Chawner, to take the lead on solo violins and viola. They played with great panache and verve, as did Katherine Philip and Marian Heckenberg as solo cello and double bass respectively. Portraying the amusing Pulcinella, the trombone of Ben Marks was first-rate.
Now resident in France, renowned Australian violinist, Jane Peters, was brought in as soloist for Mozart’s glorious Adagio for Violin and Orchestra in E major and the masterly Violin Concerto in E minor by Mendelssohn. Playing a modern American instrument created by Samuel Zygmuntowicz, she produced an absolutely gorgeous tone that impressed with its sweetness and power, its timbre not dissimilar to a Guarneri.
Peters played the slow Mozart Adagio movement, most probably written for the great violinist Brunetti, with a commitment and sensuality that was glorious to both watch and hear. She produced a wonderfully layered and thoughtful cadenza with dark rich sonority and was ably supported by the orchestra.
The crowning glory of the evening was Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, one of the most popular and difficult works in the violin repertoire. Peters’ playing and delivery was exemplary throughout as one might expect from a virtuoso of her status. She demonstrated excellent technique and precise articulation but plays with passion and flamboyance. With almost no lead-in, the solo violin commences the Allegro Molto, with a tune leading to frenetic and stratospheric notes, which Peters managed with agility and style. Her delivery of the extraordinary bowings in the cadenza was nothing short of sensational. In the Andante movement, she introduced the celebrated melody with a deft lightness of touch that continued through the subsequent accompaniment. The lively and effervescent Allegretto non troppo was breathless in its delivery with the final racy coda bringing the concerto to a wonderful conclusion.
Without a conductor for this complex concerto, Brendan Joyce should be congratulated on his ability to conduct his forces from the violin, keep in harmony with the soloist while at the same time playing first violin – a monumental task which he managed with great aplomb.
This was such a good evening of music-making that it felt like it now needed a national tour, so accessible and engaging was this music and the musicians. Perhaps such ventures might be on the agenda for Camerata in the future? It also made such sense to run the concert for 90 minutes without interval, rather than the traditional two-hour programme with longish interval. Inviting the audience to join the musicians in the foyer afterwards then becomes possible for most patrons, as the night is still young, and they can get to meet the musicians and understand the program. Inclusivity is a refreshing way to reach out to new audiences – and it clearly works.