Review: Selby and Friends and Omega Ensemble deliver magical sounds at City Recital Hall

Review: Selby and Friends and Omega Ensemble deliver magical sounds at City Recital Hall

City Recital Hall has a good record in picking winners with its ensemble-in-residence program.

First up there was Kathryn Selby and her many fine friends, who have delivered exceptional chamber music programs centering on the piano for many years.

Now there is clarinettist and artistic director David Rowden' Omega Ensemble. Both came out to play in April, and both filled the hall with enthusiastic audiences and magical sounds.

Soprano soloist Lee Abrahmse was the brightest of the many highlights in Omega's meaty program of Wagner, Mahler and Strauss.

Her voice shone with a rare mixture of untrammelled emotion and timbral control in the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde and Strauss's Four Last Songs, performed in a canny cut-down version arranged by composer James Ledger.

As composer Andrew Ford commented, in his introduction from the stage, Wagner was a tough act to follow. However, his new work, Contradance, was tight and gripping, and tantalisingly full of little shards of dance which could be echoes of an old song, or might be brand new.

Notwithstanding some mistaken entries, the Omega Ensemble plays well – really well – and their ambition and artistic intensity more than makes up for the rocky moments. After all, no risks, no rewards.

Selby and Friends' second concert for the year brought old friends Susie Park and Clancy Newman, on violin and cello respectively, together with the virtuosic pianism of artistic director Kathryn Selby.

Amongst a substantial and satisfying program of Brahms and Shostakovich, the curiosity was a 1928 work from American composer Aaron Copland.

The trio performed Vitebsk with unflinching commitment to its arresting sound world, which called for violin and cello to play with deliberately sour intonation – not as easy a task as it might sound, when you have spent a lifetime perfecting your tuning.

Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor took us back into a more straightforward sound world, but a no less torrid one, emotionally. Different risks, and different rewards, from three seasoned performers.