The Omega Ensemble’s first performance at City Recital Hall for the year, an all-Mozart affair, put the ensemble’s winds in the spotlight, bordered as it was by the K.452 Quintet for Piano and Winds in E Flat Major at one end and the Serenade in B Flat Major, Gran Partita, K.361, at the other. A fitting program, therefore, to debut Omega’s newest principal musician, oboist Celia Craig (recently of Adelaide Symphony Orchestra fame), whose penetrating, burnished tone wove through this concert like a gleaming thread.
The Omega Ensemble in Grand Mozart. Photo: supplied
Craig’s sound was an ever-present force in the declarative chords of the Quintet’s introductory Largo, her lines beautifully shaped amongst the lyrical solos that followed from each of the winds. At the heart of this work is the piano – which would have originally been played by Mozart himself – dispatched here with panache by Maria Raspopova, who drove the first movement’s Allegro moderato forward, despite what felt like some slight resistance from the quartet of winds. There were some deftly matched trills between piano and winds in the Larghetto, and while entries were precise and intonation immaculate, the performance often came across as more careful that organic. The same was true of the final movement. Raspopova infused the Rondo’s opening with a cheekiness that was soon picked up in the surprise accents of the ensemble – but the lightness she brought to those initial moments became lost in the heavier tutti textures.
Raspopova took the spotlight for the middle work on the program, Mozart’s well-loved K.331 Sonata. She gave the famous opening a graceful simplicity, pulling away gently on the phrase ends, before ramping up the intensity in the variations that followed until she brought the movement to a close with tripping syncopations and glittering finger-work. There was a refreshing delicacy to the middle movement, Raspopova’s playing tender and expressive, before she launched into ringing ‘Turkish’ percussion effects of the Alla Turca finale.
The Omega Ensemble’s Grand Mozart. Photo © Katelyn Jane Dunn
This concert was never less than beautifully played, however the Omega Ensemble didn’t always capture the lightness and wit necessary to make Mozart really sparkle – his music can be tricky to pull off and an all-Mozart program is often exposing. That said, there were some beautiful moments, particularly in the second half’s Gran Partita for 12 winds (including two basset-horns) and double bass. Highlights included the mellow pairs of clarinets and basset horns in the second movement’s first trio, and Craig’s magical oboe entry in the Adagio – famous for its use in the 1984 film Amadeus – over throbbing accompaniment, and some delightful clarinet lines from David Rowden in the variations of the sixth movement. As in the Quintet, there was a tendency towards the staid in this performance, but it was offset by a pumping allegretto section in the Romanze fifth movement and a bustling Rondo finale that finished the concert on a high. All in all, a pleasant evening of music – but it could have been more.