Prior to the performance there was a pre-concert talk by Mark Grandison. His exposition of the works by Borodin and Brahms was by itself worth attending…highly illuminating without lapsing into a dirge of technicalities.
The Omega Ensemble is another nascent rising star on the Australian Music Scene. It was founded in 2005 and Simone Young is its current patron. Much loved composer George Palmer is also a supporter.
The program commenced with Schumann’s Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano. Maria Rospopova at the piano (she is co Artistic Director of the Ensemble with David Rowden) sensitively accentuated the light and shadow of this piece frantically composed by Schumann in just two days.
Then followed Borodin’s String Quartet No 1 in A major. Alexander Borodin is a fascinating character in Russian music history whose day job was as a famous Professor of Chemistry in St Petersburg. The piece is notable for its elements of Russian folk idiom interspersed with peaceful, and at times almost melancholic introspection. There are glimpses of the Russian landscape, particularly in the third movement, when the music melts away a times, rather like snow and water into the panorama. All eloquently conveyed by the Ensemble in its quartet mode.
Highlight of the evening was Brahms Clarinet Quintet in B Minor composed by him in his final years when, having decided to retire from composing, he was so inspired by the clarinet playing of Robert Muhfeld that he changed his mind and wrote this piece, one four works for the instrument. It is a work with soaring cantilenas by the clarinet, expertly played here by David Rowden, with moments of quiet repose and reflection in which Brahms was no doubt contemplating his life and mortality. Paul Stender’s sonorous mellifluous cello and its dancing pizzicato gave brilliance and polish to the performance.
An encore by the quintet with bravura playing by David Rowden was a memorable finale to the evening which also launched Omega’s 2018 subscription season.
A BRAHMS AFFAIR, an evening with the Omega Ensemble, took place at the City Recital Hall, 2 Angel Place, Sydney on the 7th September.