Stroma is one of the most interesting and original ensembles to have emerged recently.
Consisting of NZSO principal winds, brass and strings (and other top professionals) Stroma has the credentials to tackle difficult music in a variety of instrumental combinations. They usually perform new or recent music. Here they celebrated three key 20th century composers who had recently died.
Greek lannis Xenakis spent most of his composing life in Paris, where he was an architect and engineer. His works are uncompromisingly difficult for performer and listener and are rarely performed here. Xenakis couldn't have wished for stronger advocacy than these superb players.
Waarg, although featuring just 13 players, had big blocks of sound. Powerful at times, strident and with pulsating bite from the strings it was full of interesting harmonics and sonorities. Naama for amplified harpsichord has an inexorable rhythmic drive, percussive and Pulsating along with more delicate sounds. It is full of contrasts and unusual textures. Donald Nicolson handled its difficulties with ease in a stunning performance.
Thallein was driven by pulsing playing from Emma Sayers (piano) and Murray Hickman (percussion). With surging staccato strings and shrieks and burbles from the winds it sounds chaotic, but is carefully organised.
Interspersed were the two New Zealand works - Douglas Lilbum's lovely Wind Quintet and Jack (Malcolm) Speirs' Three Poems of Janet Frame.
Lilbum's Wind Quintet still sounds fresh. It has a characteristic Lilburn quality with lightness, beauty and a sombre edge. It uses the sonorities of five winds in a most original way. Speirs' Three Poems of Janet Frame, using winds, harp, percussion and piano, is spiky and somewhat astringent modern but sounding dated somehow. The three poems relate to death and the threat of nuclear warfare. Pepe Becker's crystalline soprano has to work hard against the ensemble to be heard, but the effect of voice against the instruments made a striking impression.
Throughout, conductor Hamish McKeich directed with skill and precision. This was a challenging, Programme enthusiastically received by the audience.
>— Garth Wilshere, Capital Times