One of the problems with contemporary music is not what it sounds like – although that is often an issue – but the tortuous explanations given by its composer.
To his credit Julian Anderson, who devised and introduced Saturday’s concert, modestly said nothing about his own Poetry Nearing Silence, relying solely on a pithy programme note to tell us what it was about.
As a result this eight-movement Divertimento, which vividly recreates the imagery of poems and drawings by Tom Phillips, seemed equally succinct and direct in its use of expressively colourful means. In an evening of several challenges and many delights – not least Birmingham Contemporary Music Group’s resourceful brilliance and the incisive, tight direction of Martyn Brabbins – it was actually the most mainstream offering on the programme
Philippe Leroux’s impenetrable description of his Voi(rex) suggested something far more complex, although it wasn’t really. The five-movement song setting, with the soloist’s vocalisations electronically ‘noise-discoloured’ and bounced around the auditorium, is engagingly bizarre. Performed by its dedicatee, the alluringly gifted soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac, and a stunningly impressive seven-piece ensemble, it offered a fascinating aural mélange in which instruments and electronics both blended and vied with the singer.
The other works explored predominantly rhythmic sound worlds, featuring the pianist Rolf Hind. Denys Bouliane’s Du fouet et du plaisir gave Hind a concertante role, often exuberantly snappy in the episodes the composer describes as “rampages of energy”, and elsewhere with a scintillating delicacy of touch.
Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, however, was so full of multi-cultural influences (and bits of Bartok and Messiaen) it became quite exhausting, especially in the last three fast movements. But it was played by all concerned with fabulous panache.