★★★★☆ Ensemble's promising debut disc reveals the alpha to Omega of charm.

★★★★☆ Ensemble's promising debut disc reveals the alpha to Omega of charm.

This album is a little charmer from one of Australia’s finest chamber groups, the Omega Ensemble. Led by David Rowden, it starts with a lovely, nuanced performance of Mozart’s gorgeous Clarinet Quintet. Rowden uses a basset clarinet, the instrument with the extra low notes developed by Anton Stadler, for whom the work was composed. 

Those woody bass notes that so fascinated Mozart are on display from the outset, enhanced by the ABC’s closely placed microphones. The string quartet, led by Catalin Ungureanu, are fine equal partners in the “conversation” with the soloist and listen out for second violinist Airena Nakamura’s dialogue with Rowden in the beautiful Larghetto. Ian Munro’s three-part quintet Songs from the Bush mixes folk tunes with contemporary themes. For the outer movements, Country Dance and Drover’s Lament,  Munro raids his well-thumbed copy of John Meredith’s Folk Songs of Australia for snippets while the spacious middle section evokes a camp fire under the great Australian night sky.

The final work is a corker: It Takes Two – Concerto for Two Clarinets by George Palmer, for which Rowden is joined by Dimitri Ashkenazy. Commissioned in 2008, the former Supreme Court Judge came up with a delightful tribute to friendship, love and affection.  A catch-me-if-you-can Allegro con Spirito follows a quiet conversation between two friends, each trying to outdo the other. The yearning slow movement reminds one of Nino Rota’s The Godfather theme while the vivacious finale has the clarinets lifting off in a sweeping Rhapsody In Blue-style motif. Both soloists are in terrific form. Rowden is expressive, accurate and nuanced throughout this entertaining and highly recommended collection.