NZTrio deliver sublime performance

What a godsend The Piano is!


This NZTrio programme (Soar) was the latest in a long line-up of very special concerts that this wonderful new venue has hosted during 2017.


When I look at a concert listing before booking tickets, sometimes the announcement of a featured work makes my heart skip a beat and wild horses would not keep me away. And so it was with Schubert’s sublime Piano Trio in Eb. The NZ Trio did not disappoint. Every strand of this extraordinary work compelled our engagement, with heart-stopping and songful melodies alternating with dramatic outbursts that suggested the composer crying out against the inevitability of his impending death.


In the final movement, guest violinist, Manu Berkeljon, would sometimes lead with a simple lyrical statement which was then repeated with a passionate new perspective by cellist, Ashley Brown, in a dialogue of heart-rending intensity, while pianist, Sarah Watkins, heightened the sentiments with playing of exceptional range and colour.


But if the Schubert was the major drawcard, it was the first-half that brought the discoveries and surprises. John Ireland’s 1908 Phantasie Trio in A Minor was a real find and, although I’ve heard it before, Wednesday night’s performance showed it to be a very fine and unjustly neglected work, with all three players clearly believing in its value; I cannot imagine it being better done.


Two new New Zealand works proved equally effective. Anthony Ritchie and Dorothy Ker are of the same generation, but their composition worlds could hardly be further apart. Ritchie’s Childhood was full of playful vitality and textural variety in a contemporary tonal style, while Ker’s Onaia looked back to the experimental search for atonal “newness” of the 1960s. Both works captured the audience and, in particular, the Ker piece fascinated us with its unusual demands on the players, creating a sort of otherworldly atmosphere, although I often found myself distracted from the work’s aural expression by the mechanics of how its sound-world was created.


Ritchie’s work also featured variety of articulation and effects, but all in the aid of the diverse colours and expression of an appealing and easily approachable piece.


How lucky these composers are to have such fine musicians to bring their works to life. What a godsend NZTrio is.


Tony Ryan, CHCH Press (Stuff) Nov 2017

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