The NZTrio: Kiwi Sampler 2

ARTS, Music

The NZTrio’s commitment to performing local works was clear as the ensemble ended New Zealand Music Month with the second installment of their ‘Kiwi Sampler’ concerts, featuring homegrown works from their repertoire.

Despite the concert title—which sounded more like a biscuit selection than a chamber music concert—the Trio presented a thoroughly enjoyable performance and programme. The players’ skills were put to the test in many of these works, and once again they proved to be a tightly knit group of talented musicians.

Sunday’s concert (Maori Court, Auckland Museum; May 29) opened with the Trio’s first ever commission, dirty pixels, by Michael Norris. The work’s relentless driving rhythms were treated to an exacting and unflagging performance. The resonant acoustic of Auckland Museum’s Maori Court unfortunately dampened the bite of the sharp gestures, but it was a nonetheless skillful display of rhythmic coordination.

The acoustic was kinder to the other works though, enhancing the imagery of Maria Grenfell’s A Feather of Blue. Inspired by a Kevin Ireland poem, the music evokes “rain pouring down a window-pane, giving way to a burst of sunshine.” Fluid lines gave way to droplet pizzicati in the strings, who were complemented throughout by Sarah Watkins’s delicate and well-controlled piano playing.

Guest artists Miranda Adams (violin) and Robert Ashworth (viola) joined the ensemble, enabling a long-anticipated performance of Victoria Kelly’s exquisite string quartet. Songs without Words is yet another example of Kelly’s assured voice-leading and harmonic control. The piece was inspired by the unspoken understandings forged between the composer and her young daughter. An interpretation of her daughter’s early ‘speech’ created an intriguingly beautiful melodic figure that sung out over warm, lightly effervescent harmonies.

The resonant performance space certainly favoured the small sounds of Samuel Holloway’s Stapes, allowing nuances to speak clearly. It is a work that examines the limitations and possibilities of pitch and timbre of the strings and the piano, and the musicians gave an accomplished performance, at times each straining to exert their dominance, at others tightly weaving together intricate microtonal lines. Cellist Ashley Brown demonstrated great dynamic control through the long diminuendo that closes the work.

In Ross Harris’s Senryu, Japanese haiku provided a strict formal outline over which the instruments skittered freely forward. Memories of Chinese life were translated into musical snapshots by Gao Ping in Su Xie Si Ti (Four Sketches). The audience had been pre-warned that the third movement would see violinist Justine Cormack leave the stage in order to perform ‘from a distance’. This aided in creating an effective synthesis of opposing moods, recalling a rural Chinese village funeral procession in which expressions of grief were contrasted with upbeat music.

The night ended with the third movement of John Psathas’s Piano Quintet, which will appear in its entirety later in the year, again with Adams and Ashworth as guests.