Folk meets classical when Omega Ensemble plays Songs from the Bush

Folk meets classical when Omega Ensemble plays Songs from the Bush

Review by: Steve Moffatt, NewsLocal

AN evocation of Australia’s past and present through traditional folk melodies and contemporary classical music is how Ian Munro describes his clarinet quintet, Songs from the Bush.

The piece is featured on Sydney-based Omega Ensemble’s lovely debut album on ABC Classics and it made for a perfect ending to the group’s latest concert at Sydney Opera House’s intimate Utzon Room.

The work’s outer movements, Country Dance and Drover’s Lament, are inspired by tunes collected in the 1950s and ‘60s by James Meredith for his book, Folk Songs of Australia, which has been a fertile seed bank for the Melbourne-based composer over the years.



David Rowden’s hauntingly beautiful clarinet wafted over the gentle spacious chorale of strings in the Campfire and Night Sky middle section — “all my own work” Munro told the audience with a grin — and it was not hard to imagine the Milky Way stretching over the outback.

The strings, led by Emma Jardine, Streeton Trio violinist and former regular with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, had a larger role in the other movements, especially the last one with its nameless jig opening.

Omega Ensemble performs Ian Munro's Songs from the Bush

Jardine and second violin Vivien Jeffery, violist Neil Thompson and cellist Paul Stender had opened the program with a solid performance of Mozart’s Hunt Quartet, perhaps the most popular of the six works he dedicated to his teacher Joseph Haydn.

After one or two minor tuning problems in the first movement, the players settled down to an enjoyable reading, with the wonderful adagio third movement a standout.

This led to the world premiere of Cyrus Meurant’s Concertino for Clarinet and String Quartet, the third piece the Sydney composer and arranger has written for Omega.

A straight-through work in two parts, it starts with a hushed unaccompanied clarinet introduction before a muted chorale of strings joins in. The chord progression becomes more insistent and the clarinet embroiders over the top with a Jewish feel to the phrasing.


The second part quickens and intensifies with repeated rising motifs ending in a joyful Michael Nyman-like minimalist crescendo.

The other work on the program, Ferruccio Busoni’s Suite for Clarinet and String Quartet, is something of a curiosity. The Italian born composer is better known as a composer for piano and for his virtuosic arrangements of Bach.

This earlier work was written for his father, who was a good if not brilliant clarinetist, and its three short movements have the feel of Viennese late romantic elegance with a nice autumnal finale nicely reflecting the late sunny May afternoon outside the Utzon’s Room’s feature harbourside window.