Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, various venues, Huddersfield

Reviewed by Lynne Walker
Click to follow

Is it a sculptured flower, is it the latest designer toy? The curved blossoms of stainless steel and polycarbonate cones sprout from a keyboard on thin legs that might have been borrowed from a Giacometti sculpture. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the Piano Baschet-Malbos, making its first British appearance at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. For those interested in family trees, it's a sibling of the Crystal Baschet employed by Damon Albarn in his opera Monkey.

Like a piano, developed by the now 90-year-old Bernard Baschet and his brother François, and then the younger Pierre Malbos, this curious instrument has hammers that strike metal rods. The sound reverberates into the overhead cones creating a hypnotic halo of wavering sounds whose nearest sonic equivalent is that of bells. Every new instrument needs its own repertoire, and the first two works written for this hybrid were premiered at the festival in Huddersfield University's splendid new Creative Arts Building.

The concert was called Silent Noisy Music, and, indeed, in Nick Williams' Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, an astonishing tribute to the florid passagework of baroque fantasias, it did seem as though the Piano Baschet-Malbos might crumble under the muscular fingerwork of Wilhem Latchoumia. In Le tombeau des fondeurs, with electronic underscoring, Pierre Tremblay played with the dynamics, timbre and pitch of this novel instrument, conjuring wind chimes, ship's bell, tubular bell, bell cymbal, and more in a musical tapestry.

Between pieces for Piano Baschet-Malbos, the ensemble Crank turned and twirled their way through miniatures composed for three hand-cranked music boxes, the sound controlled by a punch card. The noises were from another world, a musical toytown where adult nostalgia mixed with childish delight in the whimsical, wistful exoticism of these alluring tinkles.

In St Paul's Hall, the Scottish Flute Trio played four new works by female composers. Thea Musgrave's Taking Turns required the three women flautists to do just that, using piccolo, flute and alto flute in four short contrasted and skilfully crafted movements. Of the other pieces, Kirsty Blackwood's Elastic Coast stretched the flute to its limit, Pippa Murphy's Changing Paths took a new direction with the addition of a marimba, while Aquarium by Sally Beamish – with Robert Irvine spinning a cello counterpoint – was packed with colourful incident.