After last year’s fluctuating line-ups, NZTrio now reveals its permanent ensemble with violinist Amalia Hall and pianist Somi Kim alongside founding cellist Ashley Brown.
The Tectonic Shift programme showcased a range of consummate music making; cute prettified miniatures by Frank Bridge and the full-on romantic surge of Anton Arensky framed the expected, healthy serving of contemporary, including a new Gillian Whitehead commission.
Te waka o te rangi might fit within the Cook Bicentenary template, but Whitehead has steered it more into the realm of Matariki mysticism, responding also to the tragedy of Christchurch’s mosque murders.
Brown’s cello took an expressive lead from the recorded lament of Horomona Horo’s koauau ponga iho. What followed was a rapt contemplation around the taonga puoro song, dealing out serenity in wafting piano chords and fluttering string tremolo, through to its final, fragile, and perhaps questioning, chord.
Michael Norris’ dirty pixels brought its own historical perspective, being the group’s first local commission in 2003. The bop has not been blunted in this hypnotic score. Rhythmic complexities were delivered with jiving spontaneity, gentler moments were punctuated with sonic eruptions of knife-edge precision.
Beside this, James MacMillan’s Piano Trio No 2 was thin stuff. The Scottish composer’s virtuoso challenge was fearlessly taken up but his bewildering style-mash was lethally disorientating, reached a low point in a lumbering boogie-woogie from hell.
Ashley Brown, in his amiable introduction to the evening, had likened the final two pieces to cold war superpowers battling it out. In fact, reasonably happy co-existence was managed between Jennifer Higdon’s 2003 Pale Yellow and Fiery Red and Arensky’s lush 1894 trio. The three players persuasively cushioned the manicured harmonic flow of the American’s Pale Yellow, and took to the Russian trio with almost frightening physicality. In just 32 minutes, my faith in an old warhorse was restored, with the seemingly supersonic gleam of Kim’s scales lingering long after the concert.