New Music Players – 6 June

The Horse Sacrifice
Explore Yourself
Timeless Odyssey
Crying Bird, Echoing Star
The Sibyl of Cumae

[All London premieres]

Louise Mott (mezzo-soprano)

The New Music Players
Patrick Bailey
Roger Montgomery

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 June, 2003
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Founded in 1990, the New Music Players have pursued an individual approach to commissioning and performance. The present concert featured five works, written in the last three years, by a diverse quintet of British composers.
Long respected as an interpreter of and advocate for contemporary piano music, Rolf Hind has begun to build a reputation as a composer. Inspired by Vedic ritual, The Horse Sacrifice (2001) opens with aggressive and fragmented music, after which the cello is placed in a productive concertante role within the ensemble. If the final section, with gong and bell timbres gradually fading into silence, seems overlong in context, the coherence and evocative quality of the work’s overall progress is never in doubt. A striking contrast with Explore Yourself (2000) – Gordon McPherson’s hectic study in rhythmic interaction, in which six musicians belatedly wind down to a general pause, only to take off afresh in the final seconds. Ensemble interplay in Rowland Sutherland’s Timeless Odyssey (2000) is altogether more restrained, each instrument coming to the fore in music whose modal inflection has an attractively archaic feel – notably the extemporised final section, its rhythms evoking the stylised dances of Spain’s ’Golden Age’.

James Wood employs twelve different bird-songs and twelve different star-patterns from which to derive the melodic and harmonic elements of Crying Bird, Echoing Star (2002). Flute and clarinet engage with violin and cello in an intricate discourse – the piano providing an enfolding resonance in more inward passages, and the two types of motion find an equivocal but poetic accommodation in the closing minutes. Founder and Artistic Director of the New Music Players, Edward Dudley Hughes is a composer of some individuality, though The Sibyl of Cumae (2001) is only a qualified success. Tom Lowenstein’s text, earthbound rather than evocative, depicts the priestess of Apollo in her various fraught emotional states. Hughes complements this with vocal writing whose declamatory and lyrical elements were ably handled by Louise Mott, and an ensemble rich in expressive detail – though continuity between the eight monologues is somewhat tenuously maintained, and the intensity of the overall cycle is unevenly sustained at best.

An enterprising concert even so, and worth savouring on the New London Players’ recent CD (London Independent Records LIR003) of all five works: skilfully directed – as for this concert – by Patrick Bailey and Roger Montgomery, and recorded (in Kentish Town’s Church of St Silas the Martyr) with a spatial depth that the Purcell Room, for all its immediacy, does not possess.

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