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Album Review: NZ String Quartet, Notes from a Journey

By William Dart

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Rating: 4/5
Verdict: "Our country's premier quartet salutes our New Zealand composers."The New Zealand String Quartet's latest offering is full of resonance.

The New Zealand String Quartet's latest offering is full of resonance. Photo / Supplied
The New Zealand String Quartet's latest offering is full of resonance. Photo / Supplied

A fortnight from tonight, the New Zealand String Quartet's Sounds of Asia is the final classical concert of the Auckland Arts Festival (Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber, March 19 at 7pm). In the meantime, a new Atoll release, Notes from a Journey, finds the NZSQ on home ground.

This celebration of the inspirational symbiosis that these four musicians share with our composer community has much going for it. If one could venture a superlative for the word immaculate, then Wayne Laird's production would deserve it; as far as visual presentation is concerned, Simon Kaan's Untitled Waka on the cover could not be bettered for cool elegance.

There are some old favourites here. John Psathas' Abhisheka, from 1996, is a work of spiritual repose with its exotic, wafting textures contrasting with what the composer jokingly calls his "ultra-caffeinated" style. This is a more leisurely reading than the NZSQ's first recording, benefiting from a more resonant soundscape.

Jack Body's Three Transcriptions, which first appeared on disc 10 years ago, have been spruced up for this outing. This time around, vocalisations emerge more clearly in the first, a Chinese Jew's harp piece, while stamping feet add an infectious sense of delirium to the final Bulgarian dance.

Ross Harris' Variation 25 has a strong personal significance for the players, being inspired by the NZSQ's 2007 performances of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Initially, they immerse themselves in Harris' intensified counterpoint and emotions while exploring the more nervy and delicate interplay of the central section.

A new and substantial work from Wellington composer Michael Norris is a major asset, with the four movements of Exitus offering portraits of various afterworlds beyond the grave. Alongside the terror-inducing wildness of the Mayan's Place of Fear, the Norse House of Mists is a ghostly musical mezzotint of a chorale prelude.

Gareth Farr and Richard Nunns' He Poroporoaki might have seemed an appropriate close for the disc, yet Nunns' stirring putarara fanfare promises more than Farr's later and rather literal quotation of Now is the hour offers. Doubtless this was extremely moving played live at Gallipoli's Anzac Cove three years ago, but on disc, after the high-powered music that precedes it, it comes across as just a little tame.

- NZ Herald

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