Reviewing NZTrio’s Flare concert, it’s difficult to resist an easy pun, as this pairing of top-class ensemble with celebrated Kiwi heldentenor showed commendable flair. Simon O’Neill certainly earned his helden credentials, with almost two heroic hours of singing, encompassing a Bach cantata, songs by Mahler and Strauss, along with a new Juliet Palmer commission.
First up were three 1906 lieder by Robert Kahn, originally scored for voice and trio, delivered with the affection that elegant but lightweight music demands.
Turning to transcriptions, Bach’s Ich habe Genug had problems. One missed the vibrancy of the original oboe solo and textural variety was somewhat dampened. O’Neill seemed more jubilantly in home territory with four of Mahler’s Wayfarer songs, sympathetically arranged by Kenneth Young. Alex Taylor took more risks rescoring Richard Strauss, underlining unease in one song with eerie string effects while providing an appropriately lush background for O’Neill’s powerful attestations of love in the final number.
Juliet Palmer’s Vermillion Songs was a fascinating response to Emily Dickinson’s elliptical lyrics. A little like a musical dissection – appropriately with her instrumental writing inspired by sound-worlds inside the human body – Palmer focused on intricate detail, occasionally taking time to highlight a single word with a flurry of virtuosity. Mid-cycle, the relaxed melodic cohesion of the third song allowed O’Neill to dispense persuasive lyricism.
William Dart, New Zealand Herald – 15 November 2016