There was an unexpected presence at the party Birmingham Contemporary Music Group threw on Saturday to celebrate the 60th birthday of the much-loved composer Vic Hoyland: the spirit of Elgar hovering very close.
Both Hoyland works featured here evoked subconscious links with his great predecessor, who just over a century ago founded the Music Department at Birmingham University where Hoyland has long been a respected member of staff.
His Piano Quintet, actually completed in Worcester, somehow evokes hints of Elgar's own, with eloquent melodic doublings marked "nobilmente", and chords which at times only just stop short of sounding Elgarian.
In front of a gratifyingly full house, Saturday's performance from the impressive pianist Nicolas Hodges and the expert Arditti Quartet had a lively sense of discursiveness, conversations and ideas expanding and contracting in luminous understatement.
Written in 1989 as BCMG's first-ever commission, Hoyland's Of Fantasy, also completed in Worcester, possibly takes as its template Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, with a string quartet set against a larger group of strings (in this case, ten more instrumentalists, the BCMG violins and violas standing in an arc behind the Arditti players). Each player has his own line, but textures occasionally come together in sustained unison, strongly melodic paragraphs contrasting with gestural, confrontational sections.
Martyn Brabbins conducted a persuasive performance, though I was left disappointed that more had not been made of the physical separation of forces implicit in the score.
But birthday-boy Hoyland had his thunder stolen by the repeat of another BCMG commission, David Sawer's The Memory of Water, virtually a concerto for two violins and strings with the second soloist gradually moving away from the first - like something borne away on water.
BCMG's latest commission, Philip Cashian's fastidiously-scored Skein, proved a vivid exercise in musical imagery. Its 14 minutes teem with incident and colour, scrupulously marshalled by Brabbins, and typical of this likeable composer's engaging communication.
The imagery of Birtwistle's Slow Frieze, the excellent Hodges as concertante pianist, brings very different results, dour and inexorable. There's always one spectre at the feast.
* To be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on March 11.