Above : Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s PianoTrio was heard in this concert. Featured image : Hourglass Ensemble pianist Anna Rutkowska-Shock.

Hourglass Ensemble is in the middle of an exciting two-concert set arranged over consecutive weekends in the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room. Australian works feature prominently in both programmes.

The first concert, ‘Heart of Australia’, started this journey on July 20 in breathtaking style. Two Australian compositions from the last two decades were complemented by the expressive innovations of Fauré in his full-bodied Piano Quintet No 1 in D minor.

The programme began with pianist Anna Rutkowska-Shock presenting an impressive rendering of Carl Vine’s Sonata for Piano No 1  (1990). Vine’s delicate densities and meticulous architecture of layered intricacy were in good hands here.

This was a performance of powerhouse clarity, featuring fine voice leading, even of fleeting fragments within the complex textures. The range of nuance displayed, and especially virtuosic playing on the soft end of the spectrum was exemplary.

Rutkowska-Shock dazzled us with the dexterity that this piece demands, whilst taking us on an expressive journey with a wash of artistic colour. This sonata makes sense only via decent
deciphering of the compositional structures and a combining of seemingly disparate elements is achieved with appropriate preservation of the precious momentum. This pianist had all such requirements well considered.

Rutkowska-Shock  continued to offer comprehensive keyboard vistas and a broad timbral palette to the chamber works which fleshed out the remainder of the concert. The instrumental forces and musical textures grew through the successive works.

Above: Hourglass Ensemble’s cellist James Larsen

The distinctive soundscapes of Nigel Westlake filled the Utzon Room space in his Piano Trio from 2003. Violinist Thomas Talmacs and cellist James Larsen demonstrated fine sympathetic
accompaniment. Their ensemble playing with the piano was of fine calibre here as the lines combined with precision and care.

The demands of the sparse, more melodic and quite filmic writing
from this local master of atmosphere were well met in this nicely paced performance with vividly created imagery.

For the final work on the programme, the Hourglass team members expanded to piano quintet mode
as they dug right in to the earliest composition heard on the night.

Fauré’s Piano Quintet No 1 in Dminor was an effective way with which to complete  this concert. The deeply expressive blend of
instruments at the heart of this work, with its well-constructed densities  supplied a satisfying full sound. The intricate busy tapestry heard especially in the opening composition by Carl Vine were reflected in this early twentieth century composition.

This was lush and large playing throughout, which consistently showed the ensemble’s ability to speak in a unified complex voice.  Density and clarity comfortably existed side by side. As in the stunning opening performance  of the Carl Vine sonata,  this work was continually well-crafted by the gifted players.

July 27 sees the Hourglass Ensemble return to the Utzon Room venue for another evening concert. The next programme in this set expands on the length of this concert to feature more Australian music, including the clarinet quintet ‘Songs From the Bush’ by composer Ian Munro.