The brightest new stars in the firmament of New Zealand chamber music, NZTrio here make their debut recording with a programme of works they have made their own in concerts throughout New Zealand and overseas.

Over the last decade or so, a number of piano trios made up of outstanding individual musicians have formed and re-formed in New Zealand, and this particular instrumental combination has appealed to the country’s leading composers, who have produced an exceedingly fine body of work in the genre.

The members of NZTrio, each notable musicians in their own right, together make up a formidably powerful ensemble, and their performances in this recital showcase the vitality, beauty and sheer emotional impact of works by John Psathas, Gareth Farr, Penelope Axtens, Michael Norris, Maria Grenfell and Victoria Kelly.

Spark was a finalist for Best Classical Album at the 2006 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

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Ensemble of bright sparks


With its generous 74 minutes of music and Trust Records’ usual exemplary attention to technical matters, it easily falls into the category of obligatory purchases.


It’s the cover image of Gretchen Albrecht’s lithograph Core that is most likely to catch your eye if you see the New Zealand Trio’s Spark album in your record store. 

Once again, Wellington’s Trust Records have the knack of finding just the right piece of local art to complement the music on a CD. Listen to the coruscating textures of John Psathas’ first Island Song and you may well imagine Albrecht’s hypnotic reds pulsating in sympathy.


NZTrio has commissioned widely and shrewdly, and this collection benefits from that, even if the two major pieces here have been picked up from the Ogen Trio’s repertoire. 

These six composers featured show the range of New Zealand music out there, and show us the different approaches possible in writing for an ensemble of violin, cello and piano.


Island Songs, from 1995, is the oldest offering, two pieces of merciless propulsion surrounding a fragile take on the Greek zeibekiko dance, its many emotions and textures beautifully graduated. 

Victoria Kelly’s Sono – with sliding, reverberant soundscapes and dynamic shock tactics – takes brilliant advantage of the stereo spectrum, as does the downtown funk of Michael Norris’ Dirty Pixels, the spacious recording adding a tight focus. 

Maria Grenfell’s A Feather of Blue, responding to a Kevin Ireland poem, flutters towards the impressionistic. Penelope Axten’s For Violin, Violoncello, and Piano is more abstract and colouristic, running the gamut from subdued to savage. 

The collection ends with a hyper-energetic performance of the nearest thing on the disc to a traditional trio, Gareth Farr’s four-movement Ahi. Disarmingly tuneful, with the sort of rhythmic lift that the Wellington composer has put his stamp on, this is immediate in the most life-enhancing sense of the word.


All in all, Justine Cormack, Ashley Brown and Sarah Watkins have come up with a most attractive package, and the first to gather together New Zealand music for their medium. 

With its generous 74 minutes of music and Trust Records’ usual exemplary attention to technical matters, it easily falls into the category of obligatory purchases.


William Dart – New Zealand Herald



Vital for your collection

One of New Zealand’s dashing, young and direct chamber ensembles have released their first CD. NZTrio’s first commercial outing is fittingly entitled Spark (which deserves to be preceded by “Bright”). Violinist Justine Cormack, cellist Ashley Brown and pianist Sarah Watkins have impressive credentials and when they combine there are fireworks (try the third of the Island Songs for energy and verve).


The line-up of composers is equally impressive, a veritable who’s who of New Zealand composers – Athens Olympics composer John Psathas; Victoria Kelly of Strawpeople and the soundtrack for Magik and Rose; Michael Norris, winner of the Douglas Lilburn Prize and co-founder of Stroma; Maria Grenfell, lecturer at the University of Tasmania; Penelope Axtens, winner of the Music 2000 Prize; and Gareth Farr, who wrote the music for the stage show Maui. If you’ve never made the acquaintance of New Zealand music, this would be a terrific place to start and, if you’re an aficionado, this is vital for your collection.


Kate Mead – NZ House and Garden Magazine, 22 February 2006 



A Must Have for lovers of chamber music


The NZTrio’s first album is exemplary of contemporary chamber music at its finest. Composers Psathas, Kelly, Norris, Grenfell, Axtens, and Farr – with their vastly different musical influences – each demonstrate their craft and sensitivity toward the idiom. NZTrio finely attune themselves to the demands of each work, and in turn demonstrate their adaptability and dedication to the contemporary piano trio. A “must-have” for lovers of chamber music.


SOUNZ – Centre for New Zealand Music

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