The lovely thing about going to one of the Omega Ensemble’s concerts is that you get a smorgasbord of chamber music in its various guises, all played by first-rate musicians.
It might be a string quartet, a wind septet or even a full chamber orchestra prepared to take on Mahler’s fourth symphony, and the program might be filled with familiar names like Beethoven or Brahms, but you’re pretty well guaranteed to discover new or unfamiliar composers as well.
Driven by clarinetist David Rowden, the ensemble has grown in size and reputation over its 12 years and it divides its season between the Opera House’s intimate Utzon Room, with its unsurpassed views of the Harbour, and the City Recital Hall Angel Place.
For the launch of its 12th season in a packed out Utzon Room with standing room only the audience was treated to two string quartets and two clarinet quintets.
The program got under way with Debussy’s quartet, led by ex-Australian String Quartet leader Natsuko Yoshimoto. This was a highly nuanced performance with the complex harmonies, shades and layers of emotion all skilfully brought out.
Yoshimoto and her colleagues — Ike See on second violin, violist Neil Thompson and cellist Paul Stender — highlighted the buoyant feeling of the outer movements and the sense of fun and play in the famous pizzicato second movement.
The whole performance was only marred by a mobile phone going off just as See was about to start the languorous andantino.
The unfamiliar composer on the program was Ben Hoadley, though he is well know to Omega fans as he is the regular bassoonist with the band. His clarinet quintet Broken Songs was written as a companion piece to Mozart’s quintet which closed the concert.
Hoadley described the four short movements as “memories” of the Mozart work and in it, he too exploits the darker and deeper tones of the basset clarinet, as well as bringing to it, tunes inspired by British folk music.
The quartet was back to open the second half with an elegant performance of Haydn’s Lark Quartet, so-called for its soaring opening movement. Again Yoshimoto and her friends were in cracking form — tight in the ensemble passages and secure in the solos.
Rowden returned to the stage for the Mozart quintet which Omega recently recorded for ABC Classics (and which comes highly recommended).
Mozart treats his soloist and the quartet as equal partners, the strings often echoing or duelling with the clarinet and even in the third movement assuming a solo role for a while.
Rowden showed remarkable breath control in the long lyrical lines of the larghetto, so much so that I was left wondering whether he was using the circular breathing methods employed by didgeridoo players.
Rowden is now co-artistic director for Omega, sharing the responsibility with his pianist wife Maria Raspopova who will return to the stage for the ensemble’s next concert of works by Cimarosa, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven at City Recital Hall Angel Place on Wednesday, April 5, at 7.30pm.
Click here for more information about Romantic Visions concert on 5 April 2017.