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Spark – The New Zealand Trio
John PSATHAS (b.1966)
Island Songs (1995) [12.50]
Victoria KELLY (b.1973)
Sono (2000) [12.43]
Michael NORRIS (b.1973)
dirty pixels (2004) [11.57]
Maria GRENFELL (b.1969)
A Feather of Blue (2000) [9.57]
Penelope AXTENS (b.1974)
For Violin, Violoncello and Piano (1999) [9.50]
Gareth FARR (b.1968)
Ahi (1998) [16.31]
The New Zealand Trio
rec. Music Theatre, University of Auckland, September 2004


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The Morrison Music Trust is doing good work in its promotion of recent New Zealand music. Here we have six works by six composers written for piano trio.

John Psathas’s Island Songs score highly for the piano dance patterns of the first and for the slow pizzicato and treble glint of the second with its corollary, vehemence and tense speed in its “trio” section. Above all perhaps there’s the Bartókian wildness of the last song, a motoric-sounding dance. Victoria Kelly’s Sono dates from 2000. The limpid dreamscape evoked reflects the Portuguese word Sono, the desire to sleep - mentally rather than physically, the notes say. A repeated piano figure lulls – and represents the “real world” - but there’s great space around and between the notes, with string lines getting more and more aspirant and active.

dirty pixels – lower case – is a contrast to the Kelly. Michael Norris admits to having been influenced by Wolfgang Rihm and in its jagged and abrupt way his piece has certainly absorbed something of Rihm’s Jagden und Formen. There are also more yearning and reflective moments but the static is soon followed by unison attaca vengeance.

Maria Grenfell’s A Feather Of Blue is once more a total contrast. This is a case of Norris’s German influence being immediately confronted by Grenfell’s French. The colour-glint and precision are painterly, the textures also embracing the Eastern; Ravel is a strong influence one feels but the dextrous bowing colour is a tribute to Grenfell. This is a fine piece, prismic and evocative.

Penelope Axtens is represented by her 1999 piece, solidly and unambiguously called For Violin, Violoncello and Piano. It was written in the final year of her Masters Degree and is suffused with expression. It opens deceptively with a certain reserved austerity but soon grows in dramatic and fractious thrust until we hear an almost manic drive. The jagged individualism of the three lines is notable as is the exhausted sense that we have reached some kind of uneasy resolution.

Finally there is Ahi (Maori for “fire”) by Gareth Farr, who has appeared on MMT discs before. Farr is something of a dapper dude and he spins some surprises here. The four-movement piece - opening with a Trio - embraces some rather simple nineteenth century lyricism as well as sweeping gypsy flourishes in the Scherzo, to which one can add a dash of Bartók. The Interlude returns us to the delicacy and warmth of the opening whilst the Finale has gamelan-like outbursts before once more returning us to lyrical certainties. Rather an odd work.

The New Zealand Trio play with remarkable assurance and they are well recorded. Biographical notes are accompanied by comments from the composers themselves. The pick of the six is the Grenfell.

Jonathan Woolf




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