On the occasion of their first anniversary, Camerata Academica of the Antipodes presented a spread of musical treats, new works mixed in with old favourites, to the enjoyment of the capacity crowd. A primarily Baroque-focused programme was leavened by a selection of newer works and arrangements, and on the whole made for a delightful afternoon.
Although only a year old, Camerata Academica has already established a distinctly recognisable culture and ethos. One of its hallmarks is the continued commitment to supporting the Australian Children’s Music Foundation, in effect right from the inaugural concert. In keeping with this, and in line with what has become standard procedure for the ensemble, a charming children’s collective of violins and cellos kicked off the concert with a surprise performance of a tango. With a cohesive group dynamic and a well-projected sound, the child performers made for a pleasantly informal beginning to the concert.
The concert proper began with a reminder to the audience that applause and cheering was acceptable during performances, in keeping with the ensemble’s aim to do away with typically ‘stuffy’ etiquette. Kicking things off was the traditional English tune, ‘Mr Beveridge’s Maggot’ first published in Henry Playford’s 1695 edition of The Dancing Master. Here, it was arranged by ensemble director Dr Imogen Coward, and was familiar to some because of its inclusion in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Selections from Handel and Purcell followed; Coward’s rendition of Handel’s ‘Lascia ch’io Pianga’ from Rinaldo, HWV 7,was especially moving.
Composer-pianist Leon Coward then took centre-stage, performing selections from his ballet suite, The Two Kings. After a brief description of the relevant narrative underpinnings, Coward took listeners on a journey through palaces, forests, and gardens; the piano under his fingers suggesting love, loss, and adventure. The lament of the second movement, ‘Princess’ Bedchamber’, was particularly beautiful, its right hand melody bringing to mind an operatic aria. Leon provided the audience with an encore as well, performing another of his compositions, the Chopin-esque Nocturne. Masterfully played, the exquisite right hand melody floated above its accompaniment, serene, before finally, with a twinkling run into the piano’s upper reaches, fading away.
In a slight programme shuffle, Vivaldi’s double violin concerto from L’estro armonico, Op.3 No.11 RV 565, came next. Soloist Christopher Porteous, having been held up by notoriously capricious Sydney traffic, acquitted himself well, playing brilliantly without warm-up beside fellow soloist Taliésin Coward. Handel’s Concerto Grosso (HWV 323), featured similarly excellent solo performances from violinists Katie Hall, James Tarbotton, and Taliésin Coward, and cellist Jemma Thrussell.
By this point in the concert, listeners were no doubt suitably impressed with both the ensemble abilities and the individual prowess of Camerata Academica’s musicians. One more treat was left, however, in the form of Henri Wieniawski’s Obertass Mazurka, Op.19 No.1. Originally for violin and piano, this version was arranged for the ensemble by Taliésin Coward, who performed as solo violinist. A light, graceful, and humorous work, building to a climatic yet cheeky ending, with fluttering glissandos and buoyant pizzicatos, this was the highlight of the afternoon. Credit should also be given to Taliésin for producing a convincing arrangement, with every note sounding perfectly suited for the ensemble, without inducing in listeners a sense of nostalgia for the original.
The afternoon drew to a close on a triumphant note, with guest performers from previous concerts joining the ensemble for a rousing rendition of Handel’s ‘See the Conquering Hero’ (from Judas Maccabaeus, HWV 63). A well-balanced, resonant performance, it was a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Much as in prior concerts, Camerata Academica’s ability to blend effortless music-making with an authentic desire to connect with its listeners was on full display from start to finish. It is a rare thing for performing musicians to be so genuinely interested in sharing their passion with listeners, and Sydney music lovers will doubtless be looking forward to the ensemble’s future concerts.
Camerata Academica of the Antipodes performed at St Alban’s Church Hall, Sydney, Australia, on August 23rd 2015.