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.
A most exciting and captivating concert showcasing some ravishing, passionate playing. There was intense rapport between the Ensemble who concentrated intensely and were in fine form.
First we heard Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 87 . Violinist Anna Da Silva Chen led the quintet which was violinist Arena Nakamura, violists Amanda Verner and Neil Thompson, and cellist Howard Penny, guesting courtesy of the Australian National Academy of Music.
The first movement opened briskly and skittishly with scurries and flurries , becoming slightly slower and more sedate before jumping back to the brisk tone. The dynamic second movement was full of circular whirling interlocking melodies, with slinky slipping and sliding strings .The third movement was poignant, sombre and richly layered , wish some spiky sections contrasted with passionately explosive quiveringly anxious ones. The pulsating final movement was driven and relentless with brisk flurries .Each of the quintet had their own individual ‘voice’ but were a magnificently unified whole taking us to the tornado like conclusion.
David Bruce’s Gumboots was delightful and featured clarinettist Georgina Oakes. Celebrating “the rejuvenating power of dance , Bruce, in his program note, insists that the work is not ‘about’ the gumboot dancers of South Africa – the dance tradition, rooted in the horrendous conditions imposed upon black gold miners – but it is definitely inspired by them. It was in two contrasting halves, the first pulsating , rich limpid and fluid, the strings shimmering and throbbing in accompaniment, the second a series of five vibrant, fast bubbly dances full of emphatic, infectious rhythms as if scattering puddles while splashing in the rain .There was a bluesy/jazz feel and hints of Gershwin. For the first half Oakes used a bass clarinet at times .
After interval we heard a passionate heartfelt performance of Schubert ‘s String Quintet in C major, D. 956, the “Cello Quintet” in a fine, focused performance. Chen, Nakamura, Thompson and Penny were joined by Paul Stender who added his rich tones to the combination.The throbbing first movement was richly lyrical yet also emphatic and had a somewhat angry atmosphere, yet it ended in earnest, thoughtful discussion. The compelling second movement was slower lyrical and more reflective. It was turbulent and achingly Romantic – a heated yet courteous group discussion that built in ominous intensity. The third movement had a spiky dynamic beginning , the main melody line stated taken and embroidered upon. There was a buoyant start to the fourth movement, led by Chen, some of which was Hungarian inspired. It included scurrying and flourishes and leading to the conclusion it was almost as if the quintet were tripping over themselves .
A most bewitching performance.
Running time approx. 2 hours 20 minutes including interval
The Omega Ensemble in Momentum played at the City Recital Hall on 13 November 2018.
Featured image: Conductor Sarah-Grace Williams and The Metropolitan Orchestra.
This concert of two very well known ‘Masterworks’ brought TMO back to the stage in fine form for its first ‘Met Series’ concert of 2017. A warm and appreciative audience eagerly awaited the chance to hear Sibelius’ Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra followed by no less than Brahms’ mighty Symphony No 1 in C minor Op 68.
Joining TMO as soloist for the second year in a row was Anna Da Silva Chen. Her powerhouse performance was fresh and commanding in nature. Da Silva Chen is constantly developing as an athletic and thoughtful virtuoso.
The first movement reached out to us with a clean and crisp approach. TMO, as led by Sarah-Grace Williams, made the most of all opportunities to enhance rhythmic complexities, melodic development and successive levels of dramatic mood.
There was thankfully no over-interpretation nor self-indulgent over-playing from this soloist. Bravura passages added throughout the first movement by Sibelius to showcase the violin as much as possible were rendered with prodigious depth of strength but avoided awkward heaviness.
A delicate song-like restraint and no-nonsense rendition of the concerto’s famous opening was a real highlight. This approach was not fussy and immediately drew us towards the soloist and to the qualities of the featured instrument Sibelius was able to promote.
Da Silva Chen’s respect for a stable melodic architecture alongside dazzling and fluid virtuosity continued into the second movement. Here, a beautiful pursuance of line and intricate collaboration with the orchestra made for some fine moments.
The energy and character needed from soloist and orchestra to bring this concerto to a close was on offer during the final movement. A lithe, elevated display from Da Silva Chen and a gutsy, well punctuated dealing with Sibelius’ challenges from TMO earned both a standing ovation.
Following interval, TMO’s version of Symphony No 1 in C minor Opus 68 was interpreted with clear and direct Brahms like Romanticism
Conductor Sarah Grace Williams preserved momentum throughout the sprawling movements and the composer’s wish to present deep emotion on a large scale but not let unnecessary sentiment compromise the security of structure and direction in music.
Effective choice of tempi especially enhanced the flow of the opening and final movements. The iconic timpani part known by fans of this work was well performed here. Conductor Sarah-Grace Williams kept the reaching nature of the Andante sostenuto second movement at a level of gentle poise as Brahms’ shifting patterns of tone colours moved smoothly about. The result was a hushed, hypnotic, forward moving bulk of calm.
A highlight of this symphony’s agile interpretation was the sunny pastoral interlude which the third movement embodies. Fine playing from the winds, especially the clarinet theme, transported us to a gentle and well-balanced place.
Challenging rhythmic complexities and Brahms’ manipulations of orchestral textures were well-handled in this interpretation and they also rocketed the work to an exciting conclusion. The flow of developing ideas and changing colours were presented with easy eloquence in the final movement as it had been previously.
The successful juxtaposition of two giant Romantic period works was a bold programming choice. It was one which definitely paid off, cementing TMO’s ‘tour de force’ status in the local music scene very early in this year’s musical calendar.