Brilliant performance brings evening of joy

Fluttering birds [represent] our longing for light, stars, rainbows and joyous song.The evening almost stole upon us. First up, clarinettist Julian Bliss gave us Debussy with pianist Sarah Watkins and, with shivery brilliance, achieved the ultimate challenge of tone both sweet and penetrating.

Violinist Justine Cormack joined them for a life-affirming Suite by Milhaud; infectiously happy music, with an ebullient samba that could have done service in the Olympic stadium a few days ago.

The full ensemble then offered Ross Harris’ There May Be Light, a dramatic departure from his recent music.

A tighter palette and smaller ensemble made for fascinating sonic investigation. Ethereal, stilled textures, fuelled by harmonics, microtones and clarinet multiphonics, and Ashley Brown’s plucked insistence on D minor for some pages, suggested that time could pause in this search for light.

Was Harris posing questions that, after interval, might be answered by Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time?

Here, in a finely honed performance, Messiaen’s light was that of visionary affirmation.

Listening, one contemplated the temporal, both symbolic and literal, as when Bliss’ three colleagues simply waited for him to deliver a superb eight-minute Abyss solo. This is the Abyss of Time, Messiaen tells us, with fluttering birds representing our longing for light, stars, rainbows and joyous song. We had them all tonight.

William Dart, New Zealand Herald – 9 Aug 2016

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