NZTrio’s Loft concerts have become something of a signature for the group; Aucklanders now know this is where you can experience chamber music up close and personal, with vigorous and invigorating programming. It was cheering on Sunday to see extra chairs being brought in to accommodate swelling numbers.
Justine Cormack, Ashley Brown and Sarah Watkins have a special rapport with their loyal audiences and there was the intimacy and goodwill of a friendly house concert. Informal spoken introductions were in relaxed conversation mode and high-energy music-making sometimes inspired the lusty cheering one associates with victories on the sports field.
The highlight also happened to be the most challenging work, a 1987 Second Piano Trio by the Italian Salvatore Sciarrino. While one could be seduced by the airy weave of the strings’ harmonics, Watkins’ increasingly manic piano interruptions created an unstoppable fury of Futurist proportions.
John Elmsly’s new Ritual Triptych was launched with a generous dialogue of poetic contrasts. At the start, slashes of sonic entanglement melted into poised chords and gestures; at the end, glowing string harmonies stood unperturbed against stalking piano octaves. The central movement, described as “explosive”, could have been more consistently so; too often there was a sense of pulling back when things needed to surge on and take us to the edge.
The evening had set off with Beethoven, and the second of his Opus 1 Trios is very much the work of a young composer. In the occasionally awkward textures of its first movement, the players seemed to be mapping out territory; a more rounded Largo con espressione suffered from the material being somewhat less than emotionally engaging.
Closing the concert, Watkins praised Mendelssohn’s C minor Piano Trio as the greatest work in the genre. NZTrio’s performance treated it as such, from the gleam of its Allegro energico e con fuoco to the fastidious restraint of its slow movement. Best of all was the Scherzo, in which the players seemed to move beyond visions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and fairy folk, to places altogether more dark and sinister.
William Dart – New Zealand Herald, 16 Sept 2014