Eternal Quartets at City Recital Hall

Eternal Quartets at City Recital Hall

The latest Omega Ensemble concert triumphed by presenting three well-known and loved works of the chamber miusic repertoire. All quartets have stood the test of time and are something of landmark compositions in their respective styles.

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings began the event. This interpretation was full of beautifully measured organic growth. The performers resisted any temptation for overplaying in the opening
sections. As with all works throughout the evening, moments of hushed and restrained playing were true highlights of the programme. This exploration of the lower dynamic levels succeeded in the responsive City Recital Hall acoustic.

The stark expressiveness of the 20th century shown in this work by Samuel Barber was finely wrought by the players. It was a fitting precursor for the unique musical language of Messiaen which
would conclude the concert. In this vein it almost made one crave a concert entirely of twentieth century music and beyond, such was the thorough nature of the interpretations of modern music.

The above being said, it would be a shame to have missed out on the excellence of the Schubert ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet. From the commanding unison of the quartet’s opening we could tell
we were in for a treat with this central work on the programme.

The slow movement variations on the haunting music from Schubert’s lied were a highlight of performers and audience revisiting this popular chamber music work.  Alexandra Osborne was a formidable leader throughout, keeping together especially well the more sprawling and lyrical textures.

The final movement, which rocketed forward at a very keen pace was a controlled firecracker of spirit, musicality and string playing from all members of the quartet. It was an exciting
conclusion to the first half of the concert and repeated ovations for the quartet were well deserved.

A flexible blend and eloquent unison in the Barber and Schubert works were consistent  in this first half despite the stylistic and time differences for the compositions. Contrasts and narrative elements were deeply studied and recreated with clarity for us.

These works were an interesting and thorough preparation for the profound spirituality and significance of the Messiaen quartet heard after interval. Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps was a perfect vehicle with which to showcase the solo skills of each ensemble member as well as their ensemble skill.

This quartet, now consisting as piano, cello, violin and clarinet, displayed from the musicians a  fine aptitude for realising Messiaen’s unique musical language. His narrative concerns,  dramatic figurations and spiritual sensitivity shone in these players’ hands. The story of the quartet’s composition, from Messiaen’s time as a WWII POW, adds to his usual instensity as well as  inimitable musical expression  and employment of musical ingredients.

All performers traced the composer’s  characteristic lines with great respect to Messiaen’s  repeated rhythmic, melodic and programmatic ingenuity. Extended solos expanded in intimate atmospheric worlds.

David Rowden’s clarinet solo in the third movement, Abyss of the Birds, was full of colour and a virtuosic dynamic  control.  This  featured effective growth from extremes of quiet and stillness. Glassy accompaniment figures from Paul Stender on cello helped create an atmosphere of delicacy in addition to his reverent solo concerned with Jesus the eternal saviour.

Messiaen’s synaesthetic use of chords, painting colours such as at the appearance of an angel marking the end of Time, were cleanly placed by pianist Maria Raspopova. Her delivery of sudden
dramatic angular motifs throughout also punctuated the spiritual landscape with an exciting and energetic pianism.

Audience reaction to this charismatic work and its reverent performance at this event was nothing short of ecstatic. It was a perfect ending to the concert’s celebration of drama, forward-thinking composers and the expressive power of the chamber music genre. 

Paul Nolan, Sydney Arts Guide