Violinist Dan Russell. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / Musica da Camera, “Music for the People”. At Holy Covenant Anglican Church, June 12. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

MUSICA da Camera were in string orchestra mode for this concert with a varied program, ably led by guest musical director and violin soloist Dan Russell.

This ensemble is an unashamedly amateur group, and though the idea of “amateur” seems to have shifted from someone who pursues an activity for pleasure to someone who does not do it very well, Musica da Camera sit firmly in the first category, and while non-professional, produce entirely credible performances of interesting music.

Musica Da Camera in Holy Covenant Anglican Church

There is the occasional slippage in pitch accuracy, but it does not detract from either their, or the audience’s, enjoyment of making music.

This was a concert that provided a couple of showpieces for Dan Russell as well as some satisfying ensemble work from the other 20 musicians on stage. The concert opened with "Autumn" from Vivaldi’s well known "Four Seasons", which gave Russell the opportunity to produce some flash solo violin. The orchestra were a bit stiff through the first movement, but did well through the slower second and loosened up nicely in the final section.

This was followed by two Scandinavian dance tunes, originally arranged for string quartet by the Danish String Quartet and expanded slightly for string orchestra. Russell had performed these with his Phoenix Collective string quartet towards the end of last year and it was a pleasure to hear them again in this slightly augmented form. The deconstructed "Swedish Waltz" had more structure in this setting and the Danish dance tune has at least some of the feet tapping .

The major work in the concert was Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in c minor, Op 110a, an arrangement of his String Quartet No. 8. It is in five movements, though it is played without breaks. This is powerful music, written at a tumultuous period in Shostakovich’s life and there is something very Russian in the harmonies. The orchestra played it well with some notable solo cello, who worked closely with Russell in some sections.

The final work was another showpiece for Dan Russell, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saëns. There was lots of pyrotechnic violin work on display from Russell, a rollicking accompaniment from the orchestra and everyone seemed to be having an enjoyable time to conclude a very pleasant afternoon’s music.

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