Arts & Books: Classical: Faster than a speeding bullet

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The Independent Culture
THE LONDON Sinfonietta's programme High Velocity at the Sheldonian on Thursday was very much sold on the participation of Evelyn Glennie. Yet the lady herself made only two appearances. Instead, the bulk of the concert, under the immensely experienced baton of Diego Masson, was dedicated to a series of modern works, equally taxing, I thought, for players and audience alike.

For instance, the Tango Seis by that usually approachable Brazilian composer Astor Piazzolla - whose life work was bound up with raising the status of the tango and his own instrument, the bandoneon - seemed to have more to do with Stockhausen than with the Buenos Aires waterfront. More attractive was his compatriot Mauricio Kagel's West From the Compass Rose. Here, there was a real grasp of underlying tempo matching some amazing string sounds.

David Sawer in Tiroirs threw us with a vengeance into the world of modern music, with his exceptional percussionist attacking logs with an axe and occasionally pounding pillars, invariably precisely off the beat.

In the second half, Evelyn Glennie also let fly in Xenakis's O-Mega, which fascinatingly explored the possibilities of balance between the solo drumming and the other instruments. For me, it was a startling introduction to the immense range of effects at Glennie's disposal.

Strangely enough, I found the only work by Nancarrow, his Study No 7, the most approachable of all, perhaps because it was written in Mexico in the Fifties during the heyday of popular Latin American music. Once again, I formed the heretical view that Nancarrow was at his best once away from his beloved player-piano.

The concert ended with a bang in the most literal sense. Glennie was the soloist in Joby Talbot's Incandescence, using the extended drum kit invented by the composer. Though this is supposed to avoid the percussionist's usual frantic trips all over the stage, the athletic Glennie was taxed to the limit.

As always, no praise could be too high for the London Sinfonietta's complete virtuosity in all this difficult music.