Classical: Restricted information

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The Independent Culture


IT DOES seem a touch ironic that the British Music Information Centre, presumably for lack of funds, fails to provide any written information about the composers and works performed in their imaginative series running at The Warehouse.

"The Cutting Edge", 12 concerts presented every Thursday since late September, has comprised "the final compositions of this century with those that have influenced and informed them from the past 40 years".

The Warehouse, located close to Waterloo Station, is a wonderful new addition as a venue for new music. The room is spacious and airy, giving a sleek modern feel entirely appropriate to contemporary needs - a far cry from the impossibly cramped conditions of former concerts held at the BMIC's headquarters off Oxford street.

The penultimate concert in the series was given by Sounds Positive, a group of seven players with an instrumental make-up of flutes, oboes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, trombone and piano. They play only British music. Their concert included three works by "very young" composers - Maud Hodson, Clement Power and Michael Oliva, three by young composers - Mark Anthony Turnage, Avril Anderson and David Sutton-Anderson (who conducts), and two by "old hands" - Michael Parsons and Howard Skempton. Experience does count. It usually takes time to become confidently assertive. Melanie Henry was the beguiling soprano sax in Turnage's "Two Elegies Framing a Shout" while Paul Goodey, was somewhat underpowered in Skempton's exquisite "Requiescat", for oboe and participatory audience (a minor third drone) - a British answer to Berio's Sequenzas.

Another delightful, Satie-esque miniature by Howard Skempton turned up in Tom Kerstens' solo guitar recital at the Purcell Room on Tuesday. Billed as "The most important guitar recital of 1999", this concert could only fall on its nose. Perhaps it was simply a case of the Dutch guitarist having an off-night or the effect on him of strings obdurately refusing to hold their pitch, but with an inordinate proportion of time given over to tuning, Kerstens never seemed to settle. As Artistic Director of the Bath International Guitar Festival, he took the opportunity to programme three recently commissioned works: Terry Riley's "Barabbas", a surprisingly un-minimal piece, Skempton's "Five Preludes", and Philip Cashian's "Talvi", the most dissonant work of the programme. He also journeyed through guitar history, touching on attractive dances for the lighter-limbed baroque guitar by Spanish composers Gaspar Sanz and Santiago de Murcia, de Falla's homage to Debussy - his only work for guitar, and a handful of pieces by this century's greatest composer for the guitar, the recently deceased Joaquin Rodrigo.

But the playing never ignited. Narrowness of tonal and dynamic range, rhythmic instability and lack of projection made for uncomfortable listening. Again, information about the programme was virtually non-existent, with Kerstens mumbling only a few unintelligible words.