CLASSICAL: Birmingham Contemporary Music Group CBSO Centre Birmingham oooo9

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The Independent Culture
JULIAN ANDERSON has rewarded Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's "Sound Investors" with a brilliant new piece, of great imagination and variety, in which he has renewed and reinvigorated his own creative energies.

Book of Hours was inspired by two rich medieval tapestries - Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and The Lady and the Unicorn - whose opulence and intricacy illuminates the spirit and timbre of the composition. The lavish, filigree colour of medieval art is conveyed by means of live electronics, all devised by the composer himself, which are integrated into the score, adding sonorities beyond the instrumental ensemble.

The work is divided into two equal parts of 12 minutes each. The first concerns time and different ways of counting it, and the second memory, in that it reminisces about the previous section. Anderson finds something fresh and exciting in the use of basic intervals and The Book of Hours was launched by the first four notes of the major scale - a single unifying idea, which recurred in different guises throughout the work.

At the start of the second part, the opening of the piece was played back as if heard on a scratchy LP. This effect was touchingly nostalgic, as if we were returning to the initial material after decades had elapsed. Part two then proceeded by reviewing part one as though in "fast-forward".

Near the end of the work, a climactic, harmonic crisis led to an extended, clamorous, pulsating solo passage for electronics. In the emptiness of its wake emerged a tentative, probing coda, broaching new musical ideas over random recollections of previous sections. Unexpectedly, the viola struck up a hearty, folk-like jig. Coming so soon after the devastating electronic cataclysm, this poignantly simple melodic material seemed to be re-establishing humanity in a post-apocalyptic world. In a concluding gesture of courageous optimism, the viola had the last word, breaking off in mid-sentence. However, the piece had exhibited such an energy- filled capacity for self-renewal that one could imagine it continuing out of earshot.

Oliver Knussen brought his prodigious musicality to every bar, antennae alert to each colouristic device in a vivid score teeming with invention: Thai tuned gongs contributed an archaic resonance, while a synthesiser deftly influenced the character of the ensemble with its suggestions of harmonium, harp and grand piano.

The Book of Hours occupied the second half of the concert, which opened with four exquisitely aphoristic song settings by Stravinsky, graced with wit and poignancy by the mezzo Mary King. In Elliott Carter's uncompromisingly tough Dialogues, Nicholas Hodges, for whom the piece was written, met the challenges of the piano solo with natural authority.