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Reviews / A voluntary endeavour with impressive talent

The orchestra's string section: 'flitting between grandeur and reflection' - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

There’s been a definite turn recently. An icy bite lurks in the air, the wind’s raising its voice, leaves are slushing up the Lerwick lanes and it’s getting dark before Reporting Scotland has even started.

Yes, autumn has indeed arrived in earnest – and what better way to usher in the season than with a dose of classical music? The Shetland Community Orchestra held their Music For An Autumn Day concert on Saturday night in Lerwick, but the aura inside the packed Baptist Church was anything but chilly.

A healthy crowd attended to worship the likes of Schubert and Dvorak as the sizeable ensemble, featuring around 40 players, conjured up a warm soundscape over six different pieces.

Conducting was shared between Mike Blyth and Nigel Hayward - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

The first item was Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, a score – performed solely by the orchestra’s string section – that flitted between grandeur and reflection, but it was with the following Unfinished Symphony Number 8 by Schubert that things really began to hot up.

The wind and brass section joined in to give an emphatic and at times triumphant backing to the strings, with the piece flirting with menace and film score-esque theatrics.

Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana meanwhile highlighted the orchestra’s strong grasp of timing, further exemplifying the notable talent and prowess the group exuded despite the orchestra being a voluntary endeavour.

The players were in their stride when the 15-minute intermission unfortunately came calling, and it was the wind section that enjoyed a moment in the limelight after the break with a rousing rendition of Dvorak’s Serenade finale.

Their pals later rejoined for a recital of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, a moving piece inspired by the Jewish faith’s Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. Which, incidentally, happened to take place on the same day as the concert.

Parts of the wind section: enjoying a moment in the limelight with a rousing rendition of Dvorak's Serenade finale - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

It brought cellist and founding member Donald MacDonald to the fore for a solo performance, and perhaps the night’s highlight. The reflective tune was played with panache by MacDonald, who has worked as a professional player with the likes of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, as his assured strokes reverberated around the expansive room with splendour. It evoked one of the most prolonged applauses of night, and rightly so.

The closing collection – a group of eight short Russian folk songs by Lyadov – was something of a left-field choice, but it gave the Community Orchestra a chance to travel in a number of different directions. The dainty Kolyada grooved with walking bass notes whilst the snappy, trill-happy I Danced With The Gnat brought out smiles – perhaps due to the conductor’s reference to midges pre-performance.

It was up to Village Dance Song to round things off, and its booming attack highlighted the sheer aural strength the orchestra exuded when its members played in unison.

The resulting post-concert queue for tea and homebakes was predictably about as large as the orchestra’s sound, and those slurping away and chomping on saccharine treats will have no doubt have been discussing between themselves the impressive talent, discipline and organisation shown by the community group, which includes players of all ages.

The one downside of it all, however, is that their next concert is scheduled to take place in March. After getting a taste of the orchestra’s potency and pizzazz, that just seems too far away.

Chris Cope

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021