This was simply an outstanding evening of music. We were taken on a rich cultural musical tour from composers as far ranging as Russia in 1881 to New Zealand in 2013. In between were China and America in the 1980.
The young and lively members of NZTrio imbued this diverse repertoire with their energy and enthusiasm while never losing sight of the power of working as a single unit to produce brilliant sounds. Justine Cormack on violin, Ashley Brown on cello and Sarah Watkins on piano presented this eclectic and magnetic music to a very responsive audience.
The performance began with Four Movements for Piano Trio by Chinese composer Bright Sheng, often referred to as the “Chinese Bartok”. Based on musical material from both Oriental classical and folk music and Western classical music, it was clear from the opening bars this would evoke images of ancient China. The players appeared to hover over their instruments to produce light and fragile sounds. There were beautifully sustained cello notes and soft rippling piano chords.
Subtle Dances was commissioned this year by NZTrio from young New Zealand composer Claire Cowan. It was surprisingly easy to listen to; this music had a jazz-like quality, the sort you would hear in smoky nightclubs, sultry tangos, groovy slow dances and rhythmic playful lines.
The first half finished with Trio for Piano Violin and Cello by Ellen Zwilich, a popular contemporary American composer and the playing just got better. This was a sparkling, effervescent performance where each instrument had a solo turn but where ultimately it was a partnership.
This partnership was no more obvious than in the second half which was the full 40 minutes of the great Tchaikovsky Piano Trio opus 50. NZTrio asked the audience to sit back and luxuriate and we did. A fiendishly difficult piano part did not appear to daunt Sarah Watkins. Her small frame belied her strength and power. Her playing was rich and romantic and full of passion. Her partners equally demonstrated their depth of understanding of this music. This was fine, accomplished playing from all three performers.
Ruth Allison – Nelson Mail, 5 May 2013