Omega Ensemble principals for 2019.  Photo credit: Keith Saunders. Featured image : Anna Da Silva Chen (violin), Clemens Leske (piano) and Paul Stender (cello) performed Schoenberg and Mendelssohn at this concert.

Omega Ensemble began its Master Series for 2019 in the Utzon Room in fine style with a concert of piano trios before a standing room only crowd. Mendelssohn’s evergreen crowd favourite, his Piano Trio No 1 in D minor was flanked by arrangements of important ensemble works by Schoenberg and Beethoven. These condensed sextets and septets lost no dramatic focus in their trio guise and the principal Omega musicians and guest performers were all showcased well when presenting these versions.

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht Op 4 in Eduard Steuermann’s 1932 arrangement for piano trio began the concert with shimmering atmosphere. Pianist Clemens Leske launched this concert’s three trio works with a great variety of nuance and effective tone colour choices to his pianism.

There was an intricate interplay between the characters represented in the violin and cello in this work also. The closeness of part playing and subtlety of utterance was well defined here by violinist Anna Da Silva Chen and Omega Ensemble’s principal cellist Paul Stender. There was a consistent delicate blend and some rather stunning soft moments from both these string players.

The sprawling lines of this work were ably fleshed out by the three musicians as it reached us with a constant thoughtful exploring of the score in this arrangement. The controversy and emotional challenges of the lovers in the poem which inspired the ‘Transfigured Night’ soundscape were here realised with steady colour shifts and shimmering poise.

A definite jewel in this concert’s crown was a thrilling reading of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 1 in D minor Op 49. This only trio in original format in the concert saw all musicians work tirelessly as they dug in to the familiar music and exciting textures to offer many moments of freshness, precise articulation and commanding directness in the playing.

Keen and challenging fast tempo choices meant the opening movement assumed even more brooding restlessness than. This could be enjoyed right from Paul Stender’s opening utterance of the much loved main theme. All instruments similarly surged through the third movement scherzo. The closing finale combined virtuosic playing from the trio, achieving continually greater dramatic heights as it hurtled towards the work’s conclusion.

A beautifully stillness and warmth of ensemble tone in the second movement Andante of Mendelssohn’s work. This movement’s resigned change of mood and voice was formidably introduced and led by pianist Clemens Leske. It provided necessary respite from the powerhouse playing found in the surrounding movements.

In a change to the printed programme, the concert’s second half consisted of a stylish reading of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E flat major Op 38. Once more an arrangement for piano trio from its original larger format, we enjoyed the resources of Omega Ensemble to be able to provide the required shift to piano cello and clarinet for this piano trio.

Omega Ensemble co-artistic director David Rowden supplied the timbral shift from violin heard in the first half of the concert. This version of Beethoven’s Septet Opus 20 was delivered with suitable soaring gesture and accentuation on clarinet and cello, with seamless singing tone from Rowden’s clarinet. There were many enjoyable moments of effervescent piano brilliance and charming characterisation throughout this work.

No less than six movements make up this work, which were always effectively contrasted. Well shaped lines across the ensemble spoke with individuality of phrasing and accent as well as producing some expertly wrought unisons. In the hands of these Omega Ensemble instrumentalists the six movements combined to form a satisfying whole as well as a being refined testament to the essence of Beethoven’s early compositional period.

Omega Ensemble’s Master Series continues on April 9 at the City Recital Hall with an all-Mozart concert of chamber and piano works, including Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’ serenade.