Nail soup

Last night to hear the Sydney Omega Ensemble, playing with Simon Tedeschi at the City Recital Hall.

Since I last heard them, there has been a something like a 90% turnover in the ensemble’s membership.  This comes a close second to the notorious switcheroo a few years ago in the “personnel” of the Australian String Quartet, which overnight went from one set of players to a totally different set previously known as the Tankstream Quartet.

You might thing that what that revealed was that the ASQ was not so much an ensemble as a business name – it was whatever group the University of Adelaide might seek to employ and publicise under that name.

Likewise, the SOE has now morphed from the ensemble founded in 2005 when clarinetist David Rowden and “10 other young musicians sought to redefine Sydney’s classical chamber music landscape.”  “Listed on the Australian Government’s Register of Cultural Organisations maintained under Subdivision 3-B of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997″ it is now whoever the management (and in particular, I surmise, its artistic director, clarinetist David Rowden, the one constant member) chooses to engage.

This means it is no longer what it was, which was a bunch of roughly co-eval musicians from Sydney, and now is a broader mix of some young and some older musicians about town.  Along the way it seems also to have become more blokey.

There was possibly some angst involved in this transition, and in a way I feel something has been lost, even if something has been gained in its place.

Saturday’s program was:

Françaix: Quartet for Winds “Quatuor à vents”

Spohr: Septet for Flute, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon, Violin, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 147

Strauss: Capriccio, Op. 85

Shostakovich: Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57
and the line-up was:
Simon Tedeschi (piano) [he gets his own billing as a guest star], Huy-Nguyen Bui (violin), Airena Nakamura (violin), Tobias Breider (viola), Ewan Foster (viola), Teije Hylkema (cello), Timothy Nankervis (cello), Lisa Osmialowksi (flute), David Papp (oboe), David Rowden (clarinet), Andrew Barnes (bassoon)  and Michael Dixon (horn).
The program was $5 and for that I think we might have been told a bit more about the individual musicians.
It was not your typical chamber-music public.  For one thing, it was inclined to clap between movements, but only if the movement just finished was fast or lively.  Things settled down in the second half.
The Françaix was amiable and pleasant.
What I’d come for was the Spohr.
Spohr’s apparently aesthetically undemanding parameters were such that his music was adopted by WS Gilbert as the badge of the common-place young man that Reginald Bunthorne would become once he abandoned his Oscar-Wilde aestheticism for more common place musical fare “interwoven / With Spohr and Beethoven, / At classical Monday Pops.”
In some ways Spohr falls between the cracks of musical history and it does not always seem to be a straightorward exercise to bring his style back to life.  As a result, there is a risk that you end up thinking “is this all there is?”
In this case, this started with a strangely offhand opening led by H-N Bui in admittedly not a very forward register of the violin.  At first I reproached him for this and I still think he took too literally the piano marking in the score – unless it was my seat that was the problem.  Home afterwards I found a few youtube exemplars and think that what was needed was a bit more musical tension in the accompaniment and (sorry to say) a lighter (not necessarily always softer) approach from the piano.
In the slow movement (a Larghetto pastorale), the tempo never really seemed to settle and it kept threatening to go faster than Michael Dixon started it off.
By the third movement the affekt was clearer and in one of the trios David Rowden got to do some quite nice clarinet yodelling. The last movement was cheerful but fairly musically inconsequential.
Still, I’m glad I heard it.  What would be really good, though, is if they could play it again.  It seems a shame that such a rarely assembled piece and ensemble should be just for the once. I’m sure it would get better.
The second half was given over to the strings.  I’ve exhausted myself with thinking about the Spohr so won’t really offer an opinion about that.
On a Saturday night, when you leave the City Recital Hall, you come straight out into the special hell of the queue to get into the bar “Ivy.”  Bouncers abound and the air is pregnant with their special kind of menace.  Why people would want to queue up to get into a club where the bouncers have detained a patron and beaten him beats me.  It made me treasure the winsome ending of the Shostakovich quintet all the more, even as Ivy’s doof-doof rent the air.
The city was otherwise full of revellers for the “Vivid” festival.
I took the train home.

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