MUSIC / 20th-Century Music Series - Purcell Rooms, SE1

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The Independent Culture
The Nash Ensemble's current festival concluded on Thursday with three new works and a world premiere. In addition, Janacek's wind sextet Mladi ('Youth') neatly summarised the positive spirit the ensemble and its sponsors IBM have brought to the contemporary repertoire and to the work of young composers over the month.

The premiere was Paul Kellett's Pascal's Triangle, a setting of Baudelaire's Le Gouffre ('The Abyss'). Though rooted in a contemplation of eternity from the dimension of Pascal's famous wager, the poem invites clear musical images rather than obfuscation. Kellett's setting was strong and vivid on the level of immediate response. Confident in its assertion of moods, its language will prove a strong basis for new adventures in instrumental music the composer may have.

Soprano Lucy Shelton sang warmly and eloquently both here and in Dmitri Smirnov's Eight Line Poems. The surrealistic flavour of these five verses invited and received parodic treatment: Mahlerian in the third, Schoenbergian in the fourth, like something snatched from Pierrot Lunaire. The tone throughout was soft, quietly stated; the harp was used judiciously to define contours and add its own brand of sweet melancholy.

Odyssey by Elena Firsova, the other half of this husband-wife composer partnership, shared similiar qualities, though using even less demonstrative material.

Nigel Osborne's Zone gradually unscrambled soundtrack fragments from films by Andrei Tarkovsky to arrive at bold, unison melodies giving perspective to what had gone before. Under conductor Lionel Friend, the ensemble also gave a vivid, near perfect, account of Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks.

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