A few years ago ABC radio listeners voted Schubert’s Trout Quintet their number one in chamber music’s top 100, and looking around the smiling faces of the audience at the latest Omega Ensemble concert its charm hasn’t diminished in the meantime.
This is the composer at his sunniest, with that similar forward-thinking feeling he manages in the B-flat piano trio, and a far remove from the darker string quintet and Death and the Maiden quartet.
Of course it is named after his earlier song The Trout, but there are three glorious movements before we get to the variations on that famous theme. Throughout the five movements the piano maintains the evocative rippling effects, played here with sparkling clarity by Omega’s co-artistic director Maria Raspopova, while the strings provide the darker emotions below the surface.
Alex Henery’s double bass helped the forward momentum, at times giving the allegros a dance-like sway while at others underpinning the lush higher strings.
The concert was the Omega debut of violinist Alexandra Osborne, a regular with the Australian Chamber Orchestra before moving overseas, and was a reunion of old friends as well. She, Raspopova and the ensemble’s founder and other co-artistic director David Rowden all started studying at the NSW Conservatorium in the same year.
Omega Ensemble artistic directors husband and wife team David Rowden and Maria Raspopova. Picture: Keith Saunders
The feeling of conviviality spilt over into the second half for the Octet for clarinet, horn, bassoon and strings. The work, which is Schubert at his most affable, is based on the structure of Beethoven’s septet and was used as a dry run for a new approach to his symphonic writing.
This is a full-scale work, its six movements stretching out to a little under an hour. Rowden’s clarinet led for much of the way, especially in the adagio second movement in which his phrasing and breath control were a highlight.
There was plenty of keen interplay between Rowden and Ben Hoadley’s bassoon with Michael Dixon’s horn lending unfaltering support.
Osborne led the string section superbly, aided by Neil Thompson’s rock solid viola technique and Paul Stender’s cello. Veronique Serret, one of Sydney’s busiest and most versatile freelance fiddlers, is always a delight to watch and hear whether she’s giving a guest performance with Sydney Symphony or gigging with the likes of American folk singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom or our own Missy Higgins or Sarah Blasko.