OMEGA ENSEMBLE : SONGS FROM THE BUSH @ THE UTZON ROOM

OMEGA ENSEMBLE : SONGS FROM THE BUSH @ THE UTZON ROOM

Review by: Paul Nolan, Sydney Arts Guide

Above : Composer of Songs From The Bush, Ian Munro. Featured image : Omega Ensemble clarinettist and Co-Artistic Director, David Rowden.

Omega Ensemble again presented a chamber music concert in the delectable Utzon Room setting which championed works combining the clarinet with string quartet.

David Rowden’s seamless and sonorous clarinet tone across all instrumental registers and compositional style spoke beautifully to us throughout the event, sensitively supported by the Omega Ensemble strings.

The five versatile musicians blended expertly in an eclectic programme featuring two recent Australian works. A rarely heard clarinet quintet from the late nineteenth century was introduced to the audience and a popular Mozart string quartet was thrown elegantly into the mix.

Opening with Mozart’s String Quartet No 17 K 458 (‘The Hunt’) the quartet of Emma Jardine and Vivien Jeffery (violins), Neil Thompson (viola) and Paul Stender (cello) offered up energetic, clear and dramatically incisive late Mozart.

This quartet’s expansive Menuetto and Trio second movement and the profound third movement Adagio were bursting with delicacy and multifaceted treats of ensemble playing. The high quality ensemble playing continued when the string quartet was joined by the clarinet for the remainder of the concert.

A world premiere and highlight of the event followed with Cyrus Meurant’s work Concertino for Clarinet and String Quartet, which was commissioned by the Omega ensemble and completed in March this year. This is a fine example of the expressive potential of the clarinet quintet format. It also demonstrated the original palette of hues from the past and present with which a composer of new music can create their wash of atmosphere.

This work is full of subtlety and gently interlocking detail, which created a captivating whole for the listener to process. We also witnessed writing of beautiful clarinet cantabile moments in both solo and ensemble environments, stunningly rendered in performance. It would be incorrect to describe Meurant’s language as minimalistic, incomplete to hint at it being filmic.

Regardless of adjectives however, this concertino was an exciting and very well received premiere of what is set to be an enduring and hopefully quickly recorded work. It exploited the cohesion and talents of the fine ensemble on offer and was an attractive vehicle for David Rowden’s skills of interpretation and extensive variety of tone.

Following interval, a rarely heard work for clarinet and string quartet was presented. From the late Romantic period pen of Busoni, known for his piano playing, compositions and transcriptions, came an exquisite quintet for us to savour.

From the young composer and pianist with a clarinettist father, this elegant and glamourous work is rich in gesture, contrasting soundscapes and demands a sincerity of line and group attack. All these features were capably accommodated by Omega Ensemble as they supplied a satisfying introduction of this work.

The contrasts between works on this programme continued with Ian Munro’s recently composed Songs From The Bush (2009) This imaginative composition is significant in the new Australian music canon for combining the melange of colonial and indigenous musical expression and bringing it to the intimacy of scoring for the clarinet and string quartet.

Whether delivering the moments of unbridled dance energy, a lament or the central movement’s effective evocation of an antipodean night sky, this work is full of colour and opportunities for characterisation in performance. These opportunities were deftly and respectfully exploited by Omega Ensemble on this occasion.

Already included in Omega Ensemble’s last recording (ABC Classics 481 4667), the inclusion of this chameleon of a work in the recent afternoon of penetrating live performances was an important moment for this composition. As with all performances in this concert, the level of communication from performers was high.

Details for 2017 Omega Ensemble concerts in Sydney venues and elsewhere can be found at – http://www.omegaensemble.com.au