Concert soars to the solo sound of the harp

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Musica Da Camera.

Music / “Harp & Strings”, Musica Da Camera. At Holy Covenant Anglican Church, Cook, November 16. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

THERE’S something special about a harp in a music concert. It’s a beautiful looking instrument with the curves of its wooden frame and shining strings. 

Even when it’s just one of many instruments being played, its unique sound always soars magically above an orchestra. Hearing it as the solo instrument in a harp concerto is an opportunity not to be missed.

The Musica Da Camera concert, very well-conducted by Rosemary Macphail, featured two works for the harp with soloist, Rowan Phemister, as well as a concerto grosso composed by Piero Castrucci, a work by Jean Sibelius and two other works by Claude Debussy. The set of known and lesser-known works resulted in a concert of great variety.

Rowan Phemister is a Canberra-based harpist and harp teacher. He studied the harp with international harpist Alice Giles and graduated with a bachelor of music from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

The concert commenced with Handel’s well-known “Harp Concerto No 6 in B flat major”. Written as part of the oratorio, “Alexander’s Feast”, it’s a compact work in three distinctive movements. It was very well played by Phemister and the orchestra, especially the larghetto second movement with its wistful melodies.

The harp concerto was followed by the “Concerto Grosso Op 3 No 4” by Piero Castrucci, who was one of the virtuoso violinists of his time and the leader of Handel’s opera orchestra for more than 22 years. It’s a work of great beauty with passages for solo violin and cello as well as two solo violins. 

Orchestra members, John Dobson on violin, Gillian Graham on cello and Helen Larmour also on violin, gave fine performances of these parts of the work and were well-supported by the rest of the orchestra.

The concert also included the delicately lovely “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” and the ragtime fun of “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” by Claude Debussy. They were followed by the three movements of “Suite Champêtre” by Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. The three movements were eerily atmospheric and given a fine performance by the orchestra.

Phemister returned with the harp for the final work in the concert, “Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane”, by Claude Debussy. A very different work compared to the busy Handel piece played earlier in the concert, this slower, colourful and evocative work was skilfully played by Phemister with great feeling, bringing this fine concert to a satisfying close.

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