Omega Ensemble @ The Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House

Omega Ensemble @ The Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House

By Paul Nolan, 2 June, Sydney Arts Guide

Omega Ensemble delighted the capacity crowd at the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room with works by master composers Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. They also delivered a commissioned work by composer Ben Hoadley in world premiere. The ensemble’s 2016 Master Series continues with exquisitely articulated and tasteful performances. The formidable balance and expertly-nuanced empathy from each musician were highlights of this chamber music event.

The concert began with Bach, as cellist Paul Stender gave us the chance to hear live the complete Cello Suite No 1 in G major BWV 1007. This performance worked well in the intimate space. It was effectively voiced and nicely paced. The characters of each movement were presented sincerely both as single entities and a cumulative whole.

Next in the programme was Beethoven’s Trio in B flat major Op 11. Labelled the ‘Gassenhauer’ due to the final movement’s variations on a popular tune, the work showcased the Omega Ensemble members’ control and technical facility. The intricacies of Beethoven’s thematic development, characteristic sudden accents and quick passage work were authentically realised and finely graded.

This work featured seamless and elegant ensemble playing, beautifully blending the individual tone colours of the three instruments. Paul Stender’s delivery of the themes to open the work’s Adagio movement made this expressive Beethoven slow movement particularly shine.

Piano passage work from Maria Raspopova in the faster movements was played with scintillating clarity as it combined with similarly executed Beethoven lines in all registers from David Rowden’s clarinet and Paul Stender’s cello.

A highlight of this excellent programme was the world premiere of Ben Hoadley’s Four Preludes. This impressive work uses as its starting point the sounds of nature, especially birdsong. It muses on our links to different environments as we start each day.

The musicians of Omega Ensemble used their many resources to evoke such feelings sensitively, with the necessary subtlety and combined expression. There was some exquisite soft playing of complex motives throughout, especially from the piano.

Following interval, Omega Ensemble treated us to a dramatic version of Brahms’ Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor Op 114. The lush nature of this work and Brahms’ clever interlocking of the three instruments was in good hands with these chamber musicians.

The enthusiasm of Brahms for the clarinet and good clarinettists resulted in a challenging part for this instrument. David Rowden gave a commanding performance of the substantial material on offer. His virtuosic display was varied, covering beautiful tone and line through to dazzling bravura.

At all times this trio was well balanced as it performed this work. The sharing of motives between the instruments as heard right from the outset continued throughout all movements with successful balance.

Once again, Maria Raspopova’s piano textures were full of much colour. She contributed a very satisfying mixture of clean soft playing with exciting strong gestures which were never uneven nor harmed the group ensemble message.