Winner of 'Classical CD of the Year 2011' at the New Zealand
Music Awards, this all-Kiwi disc is fully deserving of that
title. It serves as an inspirational emblem of the high quality
of musicianship in 21st century New Zealand.
John Psathas's Abhisheka was inspired by a Buddhist book, and
is his "first-ever attempt at writing music with space in it.
Until this piece, practically everything I had written was ultra-caffeinated,
fast, full of notes and murder on performers." It is indeed
a ruminative, deeply atmospheric work, with hints at times of
Psathas's Greek origins. The music imparts a sense of the numinous
in writing as evocative and potent as that of John Tavener.
Following the composer's instructions, the instruments are closely
miked, allowing for noticeable but artful artificial reverberation.
Ross Harris's thoughtful, almost melancholic Variation 25 takes
its title from Bach's famous 'Goldberg' Variations, Harris having
been inspired by a performance of the whole work in transcription
by the NZSQ. The work is however only fleetingly reminiscent
of Bach's original variation. Harris prefers to take it outwards
into heavily chromatic late- and post-Romantic territory.
Jack Body wrote his characterful Three Transcriptions for the
Kronos Quartet. The diversely jaunty pieces from China, Madagascar
and Bulgaria yield an audience-pleasing ten minutes' worth of
energetic virtuosity and memorable tunes and rhythms, not to
mention the occasional vocalisation and foot-stamping from the
With Michael Norris's four-movement Exitus, the programme for
the first time takes a plunge into modernism: this sonic/graphic
depiction of the afterworlds of four distinct mythologies -
Inuit, Mayan, Norse and Choctaw - does not have the ease of
access of the other works on the CD. Even so, there are many
interesting ideas swirling around in places so bleak and creepy
that it is no wonder humans evolved a fear of death.
The final piece is a joint effort: He Poroporoaki was composed
by Gareth Farr with the help of Richard Nunns, a renowned authority
on traditional Māori instruments, some of which he plays
on this recording alongside the NZSQ. It is a lingering, valedictory-sounding
work and it comes as no surprise to learn that it was written
in memory of those who lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign
in World War I. The native conch, gong and, later on, flute
all add an exotic touch of mystery and timelessness to Farr's
poignant string writing. This brings the disc to a very satisfying
The NZSQ are probably best known to many from their recent three
volumes of Mendelssohn's String Quartets for Naxos - see reviews
Here they are once more on top form, exuding confidence, perspicacity,
elegance and empathy. The notes at the end of the third movement
of Exitus are breathtakingly - or should that be ear-splittingly
- stratospheric and almost supernaturally controlled.
Sound quality is excellent. The CD comes in a digipak. There
is no booklet, however: a few paragraphs on the works, track-listing
and technical details are printed straight onto the card. Alas,
no biographical information is provided on any of the composers
or the NZSQ. Surely Atoll might have at least supplied some
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk