Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Trio provides another sophisticated concert

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

NZ Trio, Legacy 1

Auckland Concert Chamber

May 29

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

This year the NZ Trio celebrates twenty years of bringing music to New Zealanders. While two  of the original members, pianist Sarah Watkins and violinist Justine Cormack have moved on the current members,  Somi Kim (piano), Amalia Hall (violin) and Ashley Brown (cello) continue to provide a remarkable range of both classical and contemporary music. Over the last twenty years they have commissioned and played over 75 works by New Zealand composers. With each of their concerts they provide inspired programming, insights into the history music, an understanding of the technical issues related to the works

With their latest concert they presented a range of work spanning two hundred years from a Beethoven work of 1911 to a contemporary New Zealand work composed this year.

This was the  most intriguing work on the programme – a new commission from Michael Norris. His “Horizon Field Hamburg” was a response to a large art installation by sculptor Antony Gormley, famous for his “The Angel of the North.”

The installation is a vast, suspended floor with a mirror-like surfaces, seven and a half metres from the ground. The suspended floor responds to human movement and small groups are able to swing the whole floor slowly. In moving the work groups need to communicate with others evolving a collective behaviour so that Individual and group experience is mediated through vibration, sound and reflection.

It is these qualities which Norris realised in his work

Much of the time the musicians play their instruments as though they were percussion instruments, Somi Kim plucking and hitting the piano strings, and the other two using their bows to strike the stings as well as creating shimmering sounds by feathering the stings and there were times when their ferocious bowing was like an unsettling siren

They captured the idea of both physical movement and the play of light on a vibrating structure creating a sense of tension.

There was sense that they were describing a complex organisation or mechanical device which moved from being in a state of flux to an  out of control. unstable  state, exposing its fragility. In the final moments of the work the flurry of sounds saw  stability restored.

First up on the programme were two short works by Robert Schumann from his  Six Pieces in Canonic Form. The first of these which owed much to Bach was filled with an endless set of variations, developed by the players. Where the first work was almost mathematical in construction the second piece was more fluid and intimate, where the various themes were interwoven and the players seemed to be in their personal reveries.

Also in the first half was a 1998 trio by the Ukrainian composer and jazz musician Nikolai Kapustin.

The trio transformed themselves into a small jazz combo with each of them taking on the appropriate demeanour, notably Ashley Brown who became the quintessential jazz musician. Each of the players took turns in presenting themes which were explored as they fused the traditions of classical piano repertoire and improvised European-style jazz, combining jazz idioms and classical music structures.

The final work was Beethoven’s ‘Archduke,’ which because of its symphonic dimension, dwarfed the other works. It is one of composers last and most difficult pieces of chamber music, expressing exhilaration, melancholy, mystery and a search for love

Throughout, their playing they seemed conscious of each  detail of the music along with a sense that whole work was held in fine, intelligent balance. From the leisurely opening they carefully and gradually, explored the qualities of the work including the dance-like scherzo with its contrasting darker mood then giving a logical sense of flow to the Andante cantabile with some elegant playing.

With the final sublime movement, the trio created dynamic flowing ,melodies filled with sweep insistence and drama. Their playing took on an almost mystical feel and they seemed to be tracing out the dimensions of an undefined subject which was always withheld, providing a disconcerting sense of  mystery and anticipation leading up to the enthusiastic finale, where the players completed their sophisticated playing  suffused in a musical aura.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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