Encores are rare in new music concerts, but it would have been unthinkable to end Saturday's evening with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group without one.
The "blame" must equally be shared, with one culprit the composer Gyorgy Ligeti, whose Sippal, dobbal, nadihegeduvel ("With pipes, drums, fiddles") proved an enchanting catalogue of wide-eyed childhood responses to the world. Sandor Weores' often onomatopoeic poems were set for mezzo-soprano and percussion quartet in a dazzling sequence of miniatures as colourful as a picture-book whisking us from Hungary to China and back again.
BCMG's amazingly gifted percussionists, chromonicas and ocarinas expertly added to their "kitchen", were joined by the other reason for the necessary encore, the endearingly charming mezzo Katalin Karolyi whose infectiously communicative skills inspired the composition.
Her delivery swung from inyour-face brashness to dreamy wonderment, stepping back from the score sometimes to stand amidst the percussionists, later swaggering around with hands in pockets, and all the time captivating the audience with wonderfully expressive eyes.
This lovely performer's bodylanguage had been entirely different for John Woolrich's The Sea and its Shore, also written for her. Here she was still, hypnotic in these atmospheric, haunting setting of scraps from a range of authors, all building a sound-picture of the shoreline between night and day, life and death, and her charmingly inflected English pronunciation, exemplary in its clarity, focussed the attention totally on the texts.
Woolrich's score is clearly structured, interleaved with interludes which gradually introduce early on the members of his compact, resourceful instrumental ensemble, framed and bathed in washes of pre-recorded sound, and unified by a strongly rhythmic march-like pattern of repeated notes marking the passage of time. Dominic Muldowney directed a vivid, compelling account of this work.
BCMG's programme had a percussion focus throughout, its most spectacular offering being Okho by the fascinating Iannis Xenakis. Three percussionists, each with a djembe (west African wooden drum) slung from their shoulders, conversed in the most intricate rhythmic patterns, first hand-driven, later each with one beater, for almost a quarter of an hour.
Donatoni's tiny Bok (bass clarinet and marimba) created an immediate presence, and Kagel's Match, typical 1960s gesture-music, revealed Beckettian acting talents from Elaine Ackers and Richard Jenkinson (duelling cellists) and Julian Warburton, their deadpan percussionist referee.