Contemporary composers don't do themselves any favours. The programme booklet for this concert by Birmingham Conservatoire's Thallein Ensemble, under Lionel Friend, could almost have been written to deter listeners.
The heart sank at references to IRCAM and Darmstadt, and one of those Pseuds Corner new-music programme notes that demonstrate why composers should stick to writing music.
Because these two works needed no special pleading. Both Luca Francesconi's Lips, Eyes...Bang and Lamberto Coccioli's Aluna explored the combination of electronic and acoustic sound. Both succeeded in creating highly entertaining pieces of real music-theatre.
Impressively realised visuals and an electronically-distorted narration began Francesconi's re-telling of Aeneas' journey to Hades, with the instrumental ensemble juddering into pulsing, keening life as Virgil's hero encountered the shade of Dido. From that moment, the focus shifted to soprano Abigail Kelly's bravura performance.
With her every facial expression magnified and modified on the screen above, she delivered this predominantly spoken part with operatic intensity and presence. It was her piece, and one felt slightly sorry for the accomplished young instrumentalists, cast by Francesconi in an inescapably subordinate role.
Coccioli's Aluna, receiving its premiere, also spotlit a formidable soloist - Rivka Golani. But here the musical opportunities were more evenly distributed. Inspired by an Amerindian creation myth, it's a lyrical and brightly-coloured single- movement viola concerto.
From a formidable opening solo - with magical electronic interjections - it moved through exuberant instrumental dialogue and moments of chamber-music intimacy to a wonderfully effective final flourish.
Brass and woodwind played with particular refinement, and viola player Karin Norl>n responded with poise to the unenviable challenge of duetting with an amplified Golani. And how refreshing to find a living composer who knows when to lay off the percussion!