Program : 

Beethoven – Trio Op 87 (1794) for flute, clarinet and bassoon

Glanville-Hicks – Concertino da Camera (1946)

Greenbaum – Easter Island (2008) for flute, bass clarinet, piano and string quartet

Brahms – Piano Quartet no 3 in C minor op 66 (1875)

Performers: Lisa Osmialowski, David Griffiths, Andrew Barnes, Ian Munro, Dene Olding, Dimity Hall, Irina Morozova, Julian Smiles.

Election night in Australia was a wet one in Sydney but it didn’t deter a good size audience from making their way to the Sir John Clancy Auditorium in UNSW, Kensington. Here, the Australia Ensemble NSW performed their third concert of the season titled “Cycles”.

Opening with Beethoven’s woodwind “Trio”, opus 87 were three highly experienced artists: Lisa Osmialowski flute, Andrew Barnes bassoon and David Griffiths clarinet. Many ensembles – even professional ones – tend to begin their concerts a little jittery and take a few minutes to settle down. Not with this collective though. From the first note they were polished and aligned, maintaining a lovely relaxed tempo. The opening movement was truly charming. The Adagio was solid as a rock with each musician highly sensitive to the other’s input. The three players standing in a semi-circle allowed space to physically move a lot more than when seated. They took full advantage of this freedom to add emphasis and expression; lead the tempo, then to stand back allowing each to shine in their solo moments.

The Minuet Allegro Molto/ Scherzo movement was filled with lots of bouncy syncopation drawing playful smiles from the artists and a mutter of approval from the audience. The final Presto held a dramatic strength which thrilled the crowd offering a generous applause in response.

There was a wise change in the program swapping the second and third items to a more natural progression. 

The next item was written by female Australian composer Peggy Glanville-Hicks. Her studies and contributions in music spanned from Australia up to USA and UK and Europe. Closer to home, she dedicated her house in Paddington to become a refuge for Artists in Residence after her death, providing a safe and quiet place to compose. The first residents were invited in 1993 and this idea of supporting musicians and composers to be resident within historic houses has now expanded to other states in Australia. The residents program is supported by the Australian Council of the Arts, APRA-AMCOS and Arts NSW as the main sponsors.

For Glanville-Hicks’ “Concertino da Camera” from 1946, the trio returned to the stage with pianist Ian Munro. The work sets off at a jolly pace and immediately brought up an optimistic view of a trip to the countryside. Lots to see and do, picnic baskets under the trees, light hearted conversation and games.  The first movement (Allegretto) featured a lively conversation between flute and piano whilst the clarinet and bassoon were gossiping in the background.

The Adagio movement was tentative and gentle with an almost graceful, feminine lilt. Was this the walk after lunch perhaps? The piano drifted off on its own path while flute and clarinet held the fort. Gradually the tempo increased as if staggering over a few rocks to get back onto an easier path. The performers expressed this in such a natural way, very much in tune with each other’s needs and desires. The final Allegro movement bowled along like train, each artist easily coping with extremely detailed and difficult passages. The work over-all was very popular with the audience who once again gave a marvelous response to a superb performance.

The third program item was quite a change of scene. Flute, clarinet and piano were joined with string quartet for the 2008 composition “Easter Island” by Melbourne based Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum. With more than 200 works to his name, Greenbaum has worked in Asia, USA, Europe and Scandinavia, featured on more than 40 commercially released albums. Although his work spans a wide variety of genres (opera, concertos, symphonies and chamber) his preference is to contemplate remote or abandoned places on the planet, looking at them from a higher perspective. 

“Easter Island” is a cycle of movements played without interruption about the rise and fall of their society, speculating on possible causes of their demise. The work begins with a haunting, unaccompanied flute solo depicting early days before the society starts to grow. With possible influence of the Shakuhachi flute, the melody felt timeless and drew the imagination back to ancient times. Flutist Lisa Osmialowski really shone in this work. It was a chance for her to show her full capabilities in free flowing interpretation. Munro added a modest piano followed by Irina Morozova’s drone-like viola part. A fusion of cultures encouraged the imagination to play with the little we know of the Easter Island inhabitants. 

Greenbaum allowed a spotlight for each musician to stand alone and then to work together, sometimes tentative, sometimes swooping and bold; other times flowing quickly from one musician to another in a seamless scale. The crescendo and drama grew until the devastating blow when the society was finally lost. All is quiet again with solo flute moved to the rear of the auditorium, taking us back to memories of the opening notes. All musicians involved were outstanding and it was lovely seeing Greenbaum appear for the occasion, flying up from Melbourne. He received much appreciation from the audience and musicians alike.

After the interval, the ensemble performed Brahms “Piano Quartet no. 3 op 60”. A deeply moving work, Brahms told his publisher to link it with the character “Werther” from Goethe’s same titled novel. In this story, Werther shoots himself because he is hopelessly in love with a woman married to someone else. Much speculation has pointed to Brahms relationship with Clara Schumann who was married to Robert Schumann. Whether the Quartet is a literal connection or simply a figment of the imagination, we cannot tell but, the work is a dramatic study of a man in a desperate situation.

Violinist Dene Olding pulled out all stops on this work. A superb musician he was literally lifting off his seat in drawing every emotion from the piece. It was an exceptional performance with great flair. Alongside was Morozova’s viola offering a steady, reliable voice. Julian Smiles’s cello felt very comfortable in this piece – another great musician stretching to fully express his part. Munro at the piano provided the perfect back bone for the others. The feeling with this piece in comparison to the earlier parts of the program was like a horse running free. There was absolute trust for each to be able to stretch out to their extremes knowing the rest of the ensemble were there in support, running alongside. The audience loved this work and the magnificent musicians. A wonderful close to a delightful program of works.

When you look at the name of the group – Australian Ensemble UNSW – don’t assume you will get a performance of university students. These are premium performers, debatably the best there are in the Australian chamber music world. 

Keep an eye on their website for the next performance. I highly recommend you get along to enjoy their performance. 

The concert took place at the Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales on Saturday 21 May 2022.