MUSIC / Brute force: Robert Maycock on macho contemporary works and spirited Latin American piano

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Twenty years young it may be, but in the fast-changing climate of new music Capricorn is a venerable survivor. The ensemble made its name when breadth of outlook meant not favouring factions within the contemporary ghetto. Since then the ghetto's barriers have been flung open, and Capricorn now has the look of a connoisseurs' group, happy to welcome those who enjoy subtle distinctions between small worlds, and greeting them with performances of reliable polish and frequent flair.

Its current London season takes a retrospective stance, celebrating 20 years of composition. At St Giles' Cripplegate, this meant plunging in among the macho brigade. A brief taste of Elliott Carter in rare languid mood, with Riconoscenza for solo violin, set the scene for a commission from 1987, The Nervous Saurian, a trio for clarinet, cello and piano by the Danish composer Anders Nordentoft - the tough stuff with a vengeance, setting out from a stark harmonic conflict and switching between gritty quick music and angular slow episodes with a scowling tension.

Everybody else featured was on the rebound from the modernist experience, showing various degrees of damage - though nobody as much as Alfred Schnittke, whose Piano Quintet occupied the second half. Gerald Barry's manic Piano Quartet was as engaging as at its premiere in 1992, and more buoyant. The surprise came from Magnus Lindberg, the profuse Finn, whose Clarinet Quintet was positively modest for at least two- thirds of the way before gearing itself up to a shrill and gripping climax. It reverted to hectoring after that, though the frantic sprint to a final fade worked out neatly.

Out in the audience were a mere 30 devotees: a church is a church, and two hours on the pews there are one too many. Capricorn's other London dates this season use the Purcell Room, a venue good at picking up diverse audiences - for Indian players and Sudanese singers, and on Wednesday a large, Latin-looking crowd for the Venezuelan pianist Clara Rodriguez.

Of special interest here were two composers also from Venezuela, who both had a flair for adapting European techniques to local needs. Moises Moleiro's short character-pieces were like the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries' music all caught up with at once: Scarlatti-meets-Albeniz sonatas and, in Pictures of the Plains, a sequence of linked episodes like a nationalistic tone poem, full of robust and prolific melody. The Tropical Triptique by Federico Ruiz, written last year, was more oblique and sophisticated, again melodically fluent but blues- tinged, and headed for an original synthesis of Latin American and Caribbean types in its irresistible final dance.

Rodriguez herself, spirited and accident-prone to start, turned out to have apparently unlimited stamina as she delivered first the Liszt Sonata (with more breadth and power than intensity of detail) and then a string of encores including some sensitively shaped Debussy and Brahms. Hopes of more Venezuelans were not met, though three driven minutes of Alberto Ginastera said much about the greater penetration of Old World ways into the music of Argentina.

Capricorn premiere Nigel Osborne's 'Sarajevo' at the Purcell Room, SE1, tomorrow (booking: 071-928 8800)

Comments