Nimbus Trio is a classical group formed by Xiao and Laird and Cameron Jamieson in 2013, although for this concert Sanger stood in for Jamieson on violin. The group have released their first album this year (called Novum) which was the basis for this concert.
Novum is actually a trilogy of works called 'Nimbus', Nipper' and 'Novum' and the instruction was for us to listen to the three pieces without clapping in between. A wonderful instruction, this allowed us to traverse the whole experience of Novum as well as the individuality of each movement. 'Nimbus' begins as a conversation between flute and violin. The two instruments discover each other and underlying this meeting and their call and response is the piano marking time, as if waiting to make its move. Eventually, it makes its move and the other two instruments are left flurrying in confusion. A nimbus cloud is the presage of rain and the disruption caused is followed through the second piece, 'Nipper'.
Nipper' was actually inspired by a painting of surfers, but it fits beautifully into this instrumental journey. Caught in a challenge with the power and might of the piano, the flute and violin explore percussive techniques as they lose their centre and try to regain their footing. Despite the might and gravitas of the baby grand, it never manages to completely overwhelm the other two voices in the work.
In 'Novum' Laird takes up the alto flute and the low, reedy tones set up the haunting newness of rebirth. The flute and violin begin with temerity and wariness, before gathering the courage to explore their range and virtuosity. Eventually, they grow in strength and confidence and - after a brief pause - the three instruments commune into a fully mature and cohesive delight in the simple act of coexistence.
After a short break we were treated to a work by another composer before returning to the last two of Xiao's compositions from the album - 'Emei' and 'Soltice I'. 'Emei was inspired by Xiao's own journey to Mount Emei in China. A work full of the sweep, grandeur and majesty of nature, listening to this music it is as if you are hiking the mountain with her.
For the final piece, Laird was replaced by their friend Tom on the bass clarinet. The deep tones of the bass clarinet resonated throughout the church as though a mournful earth was calling out into darkness, waiting for the warmth of summer, but knowing it is still a long time coming. Underlying this was Sanger rapidly bowing the strings beyond the bridge - barely audible and yet creating a sense of tension and establishing an instability. The winter wears on and as warmth slowly comes to the earth all three instruments find their fullness.
Nimbus Trio are a wonderful ensemble, but the real stars are Xiao's compositions. They are powerful and evocative and encompass the soul as the music is played. Buy the CD. The music on it will become some of the most frequently played in your playlist.