Music / “Melancholy & Mirth”, Salut! Baroque. At Albert Hall, February 22. Reviewed by Graham McDonald
MUSICA da Camera is an amateur string orchestra based in Canberra that presents three or four concerts a year, each with a different conductor and often with guest soloists. The core of the orchestra is 20 string players, augmented on this occasion by two flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns. This was in addition to guest soprano Louise Page, along with conductor Leonard Weiss.
The first half of the concert was a selection of baroque and classical opera arias sung by Page mostly with string accompaniment with occasional bursts of activity from the winds. The size and strength of the string orchestra supported Page’s voice at just the right level and the winds supplied the extra dynamic range when required. Four arias by Handel and one each by Purcell and Gluck made up the first part of the concert with some notable oboe playing from Caroline Fargher. The final songs of the first half were arias from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute” and these took full advantage of having the wind players available. This was singing of the highest quality and the enjoyment of singer, the players and the audience was obvious.
The second half of the concert was more Mozart, the Symphony No 40 in G minor, KV 550. This is one of Mozart’s instantly recognisable works that has been used in various film and TV soundtracks over the years. While not perfect, this was a thoroughly enjoyable performance. The wind players were a little more assured than the strings and this tended to overwhelm the string sound. The strings were sometimes just a little stilted and lagged off the beat a little. Whatever small faults were there did not detract from the overall pleasure of the performance. Leonard Weiss conducted with confidence and while not overly demonstrative, had the musicians under control.
Listening to this music in the intimacy of this small church was a very different experience from Llewellyn Hall or the Fitters’ Workshop. It is a dry acoustic with none of the forgiving reverberation of the other venues. No member of the audience is more than 10 metres from the musicians and it is an immersive experience where every detail, good or not so good, of the performance is obvious. Musica da Camera is to be commended for a most enjoyable musical afternoon.