Sydney Omega Ensemble mixes up a sunny octet with some late, great Beethoven

BY STEVE MOFFATT

It says a lot for the depth of talent of David Rowden’s Sydney Omega Ensemble that they can program a little-known Romantic octet alongside one of Beethoven’s late quartets and pull it off with such aplomb.

For the last of their master series for 2015, the group switched from the City Recital Hall Angel Place, where they are ensemble in residence, to the more intimate surrounds of the Utzon Room at the Opera House.

The picture perfect setting of the harbour on a bright spring afternoon was the ideal backdrop for a sunny work by German composer Ferdinand Thieriot (1838-1919). He was a friend of Brahms and they were taught by the same teacher, but Thieriot’s works, although admired at the time, became neglected and his scores were only rediscovered in the 1980s in Soviet Russia.

GOOD TUNES

The octet for string quartet, double bass, horn, bassoon and clarinet is a well crafted substantial work in four movements, full of good tunes and solo opportunities for the whole ensemble.

After a solo flourish from the clarinet, the first movement features the string quartet, led by ACO regular Ike See, in spirited conversation with the other four instruments.

Second movement featured a fine horn solo in waltz time from Michael Dixon as well as some lively duet passages from Ben Hoadley’s bassoon and Rowden’s clarinet.

Cellist Teije Hylkema’s solo stamped the German romantic seal on the slow middle movement while the scherzo with its dancing swinging rhythm set the scene for the spirited finale in which everybody got a solo.

`THANKSGIVING’

The Beethoven was written two years before he died. Its pivotal slow movement, dedicated as a “song of thanksgiving” for his recovery from a stomach disease which he thought might carry him off, is one of the wonders of chamber music and See and his forces – second violinist Airena Nakamura, from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Amanda Verner, a violist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and Hylkema, also with the AOBO - gave a good account of it.

Despite the occasional minor intonation and balance problems this was a surprisingly tight and commendable performance from four musicians who wouldn’t play as a quartet that often.