Commemorating the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand and our own biculturality, this programme was about looking back as well as forward with a rejuvenated NZTrio that promises so much from this impressive start. They play as if they’ve been together for years and their communication was impeccable, especially in some of those tricky rhythmic passages that required adroit counting and keen anticipation.
The inclusion of two of Frank Bridge’s 3 Miniatures served as palette cleansers to contrast with the meatier works by Gillian Karawe Whitehead, Michael Norris and James MacMillan. These latter three were challenging and I applaud the commitment in each performance, but quite possibly the stylistic and formal similitude of the Norris and MacMillan would have benefited from a judicious prune. Whitehead’s Te waka o te rangi is a real gem that melds natural, organic sounds within subtly shifting textures that are all about celebrating our cultural heritage. The Trio achieved some exquisite sounds here.
MacMillan’s Piano Trio no.2 included multiple styles, references and pastiche and the Trio’s delivery was intense and exciting. Tremendously strong and uncompromising playing from pianist Somi Kim was a highlight here. The evenness of the insistent repeated notes and rippling figures were done to perfection, as were the big strident chords in the jazzy sections. I loved that Kim was unafraid to deliver on those low notes with real weight.
In Norris’ dirty pixels the Trio treated us to rhythmic bite contrasted with reflective sections, rather like in the MacMillan. I must admit my interest wandered a bit in the central slow section but I liked the way the players brought the ostinato back. The insistent dissonance and the play between muscular gestures and extreme finesse were standouts in how the Trio approached this work.
For those wanting a slightly more traditional approach to the piano trio, the second half was where it was at, matching an attractive American work against a Russian classic. Jennifer Higdon’s Pale Yellow and Fiery Red saw a lovely dialogue evolve between Brown and Hall, dissolving into a shimmering backdrop to allow Kim her turn. I liked the tenderness the Trio achieved as well as some genuinely ecstatic moments, while the fire was certainly there in Fiery Red.
Arensky’s Trio no.1 in D minor is a stalwart of the repertoire and I take my hat off to the Trio for managing to sustain the intensity not only through this substantial work but also throughout a programme of very demanding music. Here in the Arensky the melodies luxuriated and the players really delivered on the passion, drawing out every nuance and drop of feeling. The Trio captured the jauntiness of the Scherzo and the pathos of the Elegia: Adagio, rounding the whole thing off with bravura in the finale.
This was an excellent concert and one that augurs well for the new Trio.