It’s that time of year again when Omega’s Co-Artistic Directors David Rowden and Maria Raspopova pack their bags and head to the country for their annual regional tour. They are taking the best of chamber music to the loveliest country towns of NSW including Mitchell, Bathurst, and Mudgee (where they might also stop to sample some wine).
Part of Omega’s mission is to take music to a broader audience and regional touring is a big part of that. Many country audiences aren’t able to get to city centers where most music concerts are performed, and so the musicians are going to them. This year, David and Maria have curated an exciting program featuring the clarinet and the piano that will be sure to delight audiences far and wide.
When David and Maria first met, they were students at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. However, it wasn’t until their engagement party a number of years later that they actually performed together for the first time. The piece was George Palmer’s Black, White and a Little Blue. Now, with hundreds of performances together as part of the Omega Ensemble (often at opposite sides of the stage) they are now teaming up to perform an intimate recital celebrating some of the most iconic masterpieces for clarinet and piano an in an intimate musical conversation between husband and wife.
The key to success …
While they have a different approach to learning music and practicing, they are very much on the same page in their vision of presenting chamber music of the finest qualities. While David prefers to play through the repertoire as a whole, Maria prefers to work on different sections in more detail. While they might have different approach their outcome is the finest and most dedicated performances of the chamber music they are presenting.
The pairing of instruments …
Like David and Maria, the clarinet and the piano the perfect pairing. The voice like quality of the clarinet soars of the lush and wondrous tones of the piano. In this exciting program David and Maria explore Brahms’ Clarinet Sonata No.1 in Eb, op.120. A musical feast that features the lyrical and tender side of both the instruments as well as their virtuosic characteristics, this is the perfect way to open the program.
In 1890, Brahms declared to friends and wrote to his publisher that he would retire as a composer. However, Brahms saw a performance by clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld who Brahms called the greatest wind player in the world. So inspired, Brahms held back on his retirement long enough to write four final works all featuring the clarinet in a starring role.
They are also performing Beethoven’s iconic, “Spring” Sonata, in a special arrangement for clarinet and piano. When Beethoven composed his “Spring” Sonata he was looking to the future with his musical ideas. This is a work that stands on the very edge of his first period and the beginnings of what scholars call his ‘middle period,’ which according to Beethoven’s biographer, Maynard Solomon, include many ‘heaven-storming compositions - works of striking power and energy, with many formal innovations.’ It is one of the first of Beethoven’s works to include a fourth movement (as opposed to three) and there are many beautiful moments in this work. It is one of those pieces that is a true musical partnership - in that the roles of the pianist the violinist (or in this case, the clarinetist) are equal.
Maria says: “I love Beethoven, and this sonata is stunning. I hear a lot of intimacy in the music and playing it with David will be truly meaningful.”
At the heart of the piano …
Fittingly (as Liszt composed this music while he was travelling), Maria is presenting Liszt’s fiery Tarantella which sees her leaping from the highs to the lows of the piano with virtuosic bravura. “I chose this work as it is an amazing piece. The Tarantella offers the listener and the musician everything you are after in a piano piece. It has a lot of energy, fire and a huge range of emotion. It’s adventurous and fun, and immensely satisfying to play.”
In contrast to this, she will serve up one of Mendelssohn’s most important and beautiful piano works, Rondo Capriccioso, op.14. “The sparkling bravura piece was called an “Etude” in the first version of 1828. Two years later Mendelssohn wanted to present the work to the young piano virtuoso Delphine von Schauroth, whom he was courting at the time. He reworked it under the new title Rondo Capriccioso, making it even more brilliant and adding a “moving introductory adagio” (as he described in a letter to Fanny). In this form, the work still presents pianists with a rewarding challenge. ”
“The Mendelssohn Rondo Capriccioso, op.14 serves as a great contrast to the program. It’s a beautifully flowing, Romantic piece and it’s a real crowd pleaser,” Maria says.
Also featured on the program is Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Originally composed for Benny Goodman (the famous jazz musician), Poulenc was to give the premiere performance with Goodman at Carnegie Hall. Falling ill, Poulenc was unable to perform and Leonard Bernstein stepped in as the pianist. Kathy Henkel writes:
“The wistful principal clarinet melody in the gentle Romanza which follows provides the essential thematic material from which the composer weaves his melancholy second movement. The finale finds Poulenc at his most rambunctious—from percussive piano passages and impetuous clarinet commentary at the outset to the impertinent ending flourish.”
Don’t miss David and Maria as they tour from Lithgow to Forbes during June.