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28 August 2008

Sydney Omega Ensemble

Daniel Rojas premiere

Sydney Omega Ensemble Image: Sydney Omega Ensemble  
© Keith Saunders

Review by L. Mathison

Three pieces of music from three different eras - with a touch of spice - were on the program for the July 2nd concert by the Sydney Omega Ensemble.

Undrinkable Peruvian water that requires multiple boiling is not a topic for inspiration that springs readily to mind. Daniel Rojas, however, has turned to this unconventional topic for his Apertura Dura Hervida (Hard Boiled Overture), after a period spent composing in Peru. The piece, premiered in this concert, reflects the interest the Chilean-born composer cultivates in the music of various cultures, in particular the indigenous and folk music of Peru and Afro-Hispanic styles. Rojas introduced the piece by playing the 'clave' - a rhythmic cell around which the work is structured - which hinted at the energetic vibe of the piece.

Apertura Dura Hervida opened with an extended bass solo - David Campbell had fun with the pizzicato and funky string-slapping - and the work alternated between these solos and lightly textured tutti sections, which frequently teased the ear with some brief but interesting instrumental combinations, such as the quirky little viola and bassoon duet early in the piece.

The program notes alluded to the whistling of a kettle (boiling the Peruvian water), which I was sure I heard, although the performance lacked the forceful steam I equate with that appliance at boiling point. The energy and spiciness demonstrated by Rojas bubbled just beneath the surface of the piece, but despite the precise ensemble playing, the energy and sensuality so integral to this style of music was obscured by a slightly lacklustre performance.

Martinu's trio for flute, cello and piano (1944) only hints at the huge range of influences that he utilised throughout his career; notably Eastern folk music, neo-classicism and jazz. The composer firmly rejected romanticism and this trio owes more perhaps to his classical predecessors in both mood and form. Here, the expansive melodies of the opening movement were given buoyancy by the well-chosen tempo and the crisp articulation enhanced the counterpoint. In the more Eastern-flavoured Adagio, tempo and mood were effective as was the cello pizzicato. Bright, brisk passages run out of more pensive melodies in the third movement, Scherzando, throughout which the energy was reasonably well-maintained.

Schubert's Octet in F Op. 166 (1824) was closely modelled on Beethoven's septet, and requested as a companion to the latter work. It was a pleasant change after the two modern works, although the energy levels were again subdued and there were occasional intonation problems in the strings. The combination of joyful lightness and melancholy that places Schubert on the bridge between the classical and Romantic eras was veiled by restrained playing - the more light-hearted sections didn't have enough musical melancholy to strongly capture these contrasting moods.

The tempos were fairly brisk here, articulation came through very well, and the tight ensemble playing for which the group are renowned did not disappoint. The City Recital Hall provided a good acoustic and the background lighting added an artistic touch to this eclectic concert.


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