Stroma players start festival with a stunner

Stroma is a highly motivated, brilliant group of players mainly from the NZSO. They concentrate on music of the past century. This concert, dedicated to the Viennese school, was a stunner for the festivals opening weekend.

The opening piece, Transfigured Night, was the earliest, from 1902, and I was surprised it did not pull a full house: an old-fashioned, emotion-driven masterpiece. They played the original string sextet version, somehow more immediately ecstatic than the better upholstered orchestral version. Conductor Hamish McKeich commanded a long, expectant silence before cello and viola made their febrile, moonlit entries - superb scene-setting: the players maintained the music's intensity, its disturbed psychological landscape: a marvellous, breathtaking performance.

Webern's so-called symphony, actually a nonet, could hardly have been more different: its expressiveness so distilled that engagement is almost impossible in normal terms. These players gave it the most dedicated, persuasive reading I can imagine.

The other two pieces were from century's end. Karlheinz Essl's Mise En Scene contained real music that often penetrated the avant-garde straitjacket that composers of his generation tend to adopt: the piece, for string quartet and six wind instruments and percussion, suggested a film score. It was entertaining as well as intellectually interesting.

Olga Neuwirth's Hooloomooloo (was it inspired by a Sydney bay?) is scored for 16 players and recorded tape which delivered a disturbing oscillating tone during the first minute or so. Chaotic, random sounds followed which evolved slowly towards coherence. Though it seemed to concentrate more on effects than on whatever it was that caused them, it, too, was an entertaining.

— Lindis Taylor, Evening Post, 24 February 2002

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