The New Zealand String Quartet was joined by American violist James Dunham to play magical quintets on Thursday night.
The addition of a second viola to the standard string quartet line-up seems to have inspired composers to explore a quite different area of creative expression with the darker palette of tone colours, and the excellent programme provided many new insights.
The ensemble played with all the immaculate control and perfect balance of voices that we have come to expect.
In spite of the replacement of the retired Douglas Beilman with newcomer Monique Lapins and the addition of a guest violist, there was nothing to suggest that these musicians have not played together for years, such was their unity, blending and communication.
The programme opened with a quintet by Mozart at his moodiest, a far cry from the usual light, charming elegance we expect, with just occasional flashes of his more typical style. There were sweeping melodic lines for the violas, full of yearning and sweet melancholy, by turns calm and brooding, delicate but richly sonorous.
The introduction to Torino by young New Zealand composer Selina Fisher gave us an informed perspective on the work, inspired by the performance of Rob Thorne on the putorino, a unique Maori wind instrument.
The varied tones were perfectly mimicked, right down to the breathiness: if you shut your eyes you would not believe you were listening to strings.
The skill of the composer went beyond mere imitation though, in the interweaving of multiple lines that would not be possible on the solo instrument, into a haunting and beautiful work.
The Brahms quintet had vigour, intensity and unleashed emotion, with moments of introspection and exuberance, all with a wonderful richness from the middle voices, culminating in a rollicking gypsy dance.