NZTrio’s compromise-free programme offers drama and beauty


NZTrio play their final concert for the year at Q Theatre in Auckland on Sunday, and the opportunity of a Wellington preview proved irresistible.

It was a compromise-free programme, setting off with the wild sonic scramble of Sciarrino’s Second Piano Trio that thrilled Aucklanders in September. On Wednesday, the City Gallery acoustics spiked up Sarah Watkins’ flamboyant assaults on her piano, hands in protective bandaging, while new eerie birdsong seemed to emerge from the string clusterings of Justine Cormack and Ashley Brown.

New York composer John Zorn is a self-described radical often bent on deconstruction. His 2001 Amour Fouseemed long at 20 minutes but the musicians caught its obsessional power with its violent eruptions and those abrupt disorientating shifts that are part of the composer’s armament.

Leonie Holmes’ …when expectation ends is a serious and engaging eight minutes, exploring the ironies of finding an inner peace in the midst of turmoil. It was an exquisitely mapped journey, signposted by a harmonically modulated tension that sustained expectancy. Holmes’ restraint with touches of ricochet bowing or a flurry of changing time signatures was admirable; there was passionate lyricism and, at one point, the dramatic chime of E major among harmonies that sometimes evoked the hear-through beauties of gamelan.  

The theme of expectation carried through to Eduard Steuermann’s 1932 arrangement of Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Written in the very end of the 19th century, this late romantic bloom compresses a Wagnerian epic into 30 minutes; love is threatened and regained under the light of the same moon that would inspire Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire decades later. In the composer’s original string scorings, Verklarte Nacht can wring the emotions almost unbearably, as the various themes wend their way from despair to elation. And so it did, with Watkins working overtime to evoke surging strings with just two hands while Cormack and Brown, representing the two protagonists of the drama, created a poignant blend of strength and vulnerability.

Good news: Aucklanders can enjoy this fine concert on Sunday, with the added bonus of a Beethoven Trio replacing the already heard Sciarrino.


William Dart – NZ Herald, 29 Oct 2014

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