Above : Catalin Ungureanu – violinist for the Arensky Piano Trio No 1 in D minor and the Ravel String Quartet in F major
‘Ravel Impressions’ at City Recital Hall was the final concert from Omega Ensemble in its 2017 Virtuoso Series and for all concert series in the year. Whilst celebrating the trio and quartet genres from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, Omega Ensemble presented an entertainment which was consistently stylish and elevated. Once more their programme allowed a demonstration of the talented virtuosi at Omega’s disposal. The chamber music skill on display soared with constant class into the artistic stratosphere.
The first half of the concert juxtaposed a Russian piano trio from the late Romantic period with a more well-known clarinet trio written by Mozart in 1786. The concert’s second half consisted of a joyous reunion of a piano trio by Gabriel Fauré and the famous string quartet by his pupil Maurice Ravel. This concert also paid homage to teacher-composers, as both Arensky and Fauré were prolific music educators of their time at the St Petersburg and Paris Conservatories respectively.
Starting the concert with Anton Arensky’s dramatic Piano Trio Op 32 No 1 in D minor, Omega took its audience on a beautifully nuanced tour of a Russian composition sharing the ideals of the European Romantic music movement. Catalin Ungureanu (violin) and Paul Stender (cello) united seamlessly with Omega’s Co-Musical Director Maria Raspopova (piano) to convey the character-filled movement structure of this work.
Raspopova’s innate abilities as a sympathetic chamber musician were evident here from the work’s outset. Her accompaniment layer was expertly balanced and positioned around the eloquence of Ungureanu and Stender’s themes on violin and cello. The main melodic material then sang with equal lyricism when emerging from the keyboard.
This work’s second movement Scherzo and Allegro non troppo finale were well contrasted to the standard Romantic lyricism and structure of the first movement. Both were candidly brought to life. The work’s absolute highlight was its Elegia third movement. The cello melody at the opening as played by Stender sank beautifully into the piano chords, inspiring beautiful subtlety in the violin and piano to follow.
Jumping back in time to Mozart’s innovative Trio for clarinet, viola and piano K 498 (‘Kegelstatt’), violist Neil Thompson and pianist Raspopova were joined by Omega Ensemble’s Co-Artisistic Director, David Rowden on clarinet. This was an elegant reading of the score, featuring the soaring cantabile of his favoured clarinet tone colour, here finely added by Rowden to the full trio texture.
We also had the chance in this earliest work of the concert to hear the viola part written by Mozart for himself to play at the premiere in a friend’s house. Particularly rewarding in this performance was the handling of the unfolding of sections within Mozart’s sprawling and expressive rondo to finish.
The clarinet replaced the violin with great tone-colour effect in this performance of Fauré’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op 120 (1923). This work, the composer’s second-last, was the most recent in the concert’s programme. Its comfortably clear lines and gently undulating texture in the first movement through to the sunny serenity of the Andantino middle movement and then the exuberance of the final Allegro vivo were realised with excellent blend, tempo choice and homogeneity.
As well as delighting the receptive audience with diverse and newly discovered works, Omega Ensemble brought the concert home and the house well and truly down with Ravel’s String Quartet in F major (1903), a classic in its genre and a true concert hall favourite.
Catalin Ungureanu, Airena Nakamura, Neil Thompson and Paul Stender ensured we relived our favourite moments and impessions of Ravel’s work. It was successfully played with crystal clear transparency and keen momentum throughout. Following the exquisite atmosphere of the third Très lent movement, the closing Vif et agité movement was worked up to a thrilling conclusion to this special work and programme of chamber music.