The Nutcracker – Virtuoso Series
City Recital Hall
16 November 2015
Celia Craig (oboe), Georgina Roberts (oboe / cor anglais), David Rowden (Artistic Director and clarinet), John Lewis (clarinet / bass clarinet), Ben Hoadley (bassoon), Simone Walters (bassoon), Michael Dixon (horn), Jenny Mcleod-Sneyd (horn), Lisa Osmialowski (flute), Paul Stender (cello), Alex Henery (double bass)
The Omega Ensemble has ended its tenth anniversary year with another delightfully mixed programme of wind music contrasting the known, the unknown and familiar music in new dress.
The concert opened with Carl Nielsen’s rarely performed Serenata in Vano (Serenade in Vain). This is a ten minute trifle he produced in less than a week for an imminent regional concert tour of the Danish provinces. It is an amiable work in three sections which came across well in the sympathetic acoustic of the City Recital Hall. Nielsen described the first section as ‘chivalric and showy’, and this was well brought out by Celia Craig playing the first oboe and also by the enjoyable interchanges between the first clarinet and bassoon, played by David Rowden and Ben Hoadley. The plaintive middle section displayed the ensemble’s fine blend and in the jaunty final section they nicely captured the playful spirit of the immediately hummable tune.
The main work in the first half was Mozart’s superb Serenade in C minor K.388 for wind octet which was given a stylish and nicely balanced performance. The first movement was very elegantly played – especially the graceful exchanges between Celia Craig and David Rowden. The long phrases of the slow movement were well sustained and blended. The minuet was also well-played, though some of the cross-rhythms occasionally seemed a little unstable. The performance ended with a lively rendition of the sprightly finale.
After interval, the approaching Christmas season was acknowledged by Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite performed in a version for nine wind players and double bass in an arrangement by the modern German composer and arranger Andreas Tarkmann. The items in this version differ slightly from those in the popular orchestral suite but include those best suited for performance by a wind ensemble. This was a delightful performance that brought out the charm of Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular music. Flautist Lisa Osmialowski extended the tone colour of the ensemble with attractive, fluent playing. The tone colour of the ensemble was further widened with Georgina Roberts sometimes switching to cor anglais and John Lewis employing the bass clarinet.
Throughout the concert the Omega Ensemble displayed a unanimity of style and cohesion which is not always evident in groups with varying membership. Playing first oboe, Celia Craig led with a fine sense of style. Playing first clarinet, the ensemble’s Artistic Director David Rowden also displayed his customary fine playing, though he was uncharacteristically a little more reticent than necessary. The performances were well supported by sensitive playing and a lightness of touch from the two bassoons and also by reliable support from the well-behaved horns. Alex Henery’s double bass provided the only deep bass tone in the ensemble and he successfully switched between delicate pizzicato support and an expanded, full-tone underpinning of the whole ensemble as the musical context required.
Atmospheric coloured lighting has recently become fashionable in the City Recital Hall and whilst this is relatively harmless, I would put in a plea to keep it stationary. Moving lighting effects create an unwelcome distraction from the performances.
A more welcome innovation is the establishment of the Omega Ensemble’s Digital Concert Hall (http://omegaensemble.com.au/digital-concert-hall/) which provides free access to videos of some of their previous performances. This is a generous initiative which showcases the ensemble’s high standards of performance. It also allows their regular audience members to enjoy their performances once again.
In addition to marking the successful end of the Omega Ensemble’s tenth anniversary season the concert was also the occasion for launching their programme for 2016 when they will again be the Ensemble in Residence for the City Recital Hall. Next year promises a number of intriguing performances and signals the ensemble’s occasional expansion to chamber orchestra size.
Larry Turner for SoundsLikeSydney©
Larry Turner has been singing in choirs for many years – both in Sydney and London. He is an avid attender of operas and concerts, with an emphasis on vocal music. He particularly enjoys music from both the great a capella period and the baroque – especially the lesser-known works of Bach and Handel. He has written programme notes for Sydney Philharmonia, the Intervarsity Choral Festival and the Sydneian Bach Choir and is currently part of a team researching the history of Sydney Philharmonia for its forthcoming centenary.