MUSIC / Hot to trot: Adrian Jack reviews the 'Response' Weekend

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The theme of the London Sinfonietta's 'Response' weekend at the Barbican was jazz: but the two concerts, on Saturday and Sunday, were not dominated by it.

Marking Paul Crossley's farewell as artistic director, they featured works from some old Sinfonietta favourites, Hans-Jurgen von Bose and Jonathan Lloyd. Also Franco Donatoni, a big influence abroad, but rather intermittently performed here. The programme neatly described his 'Hot' (1989) as a piece of imaginary jazz. Almost continuously up-tempo, it was a virtuoso bit of note- spinning, without profound meaning (nothing wrong in that), beautifully scored with a solo part for the saxophonist John Harle, who whipped everyone up to four increasingly manic climaxes.

Mark-Anthony Turnage has often avowed a debt to jazz and, in 'Kai', a solo cello (Christopher van Kampen) plied a lament against the other engagements of a jazz- based ensemble. Despite this, the influence of jazz hardly went further than one raucous section whose violence was 'jazzy' in the most generalised way. The piece was written after the death of a young cellist in 1989, and Turnage's mourning garb seemed distinctly hand-me-down.

Which can't be said of Conlon Nancarrow, whose jagged rhythms might be called Cubist, if not downright geometrical. The trouble with his player-piano studies is that the intricacies of dance rhythms are devalued by inflation, cramped by complication. Rex Lawson 'played' No 7, which the Sinfonietta also performed in Yvar Mikhashoff's enterprising arrangement.

Completely free of any jazz or dance-like element was a new Sinfonietta commission, a wan little piece by the Dane Anders Nordentoft called 'The City of Threads'. Much more substantial was 'Night Symphonies, Day Breaks' by his older compatriot Per Norgard, written two years ago and performed in Britain for the first time. Norgard's eccentric programme note hardly helped one plumb the piece's depths, but at least there was one gently haunting section near the middle.

Saturday's concert ended with one of the best pieces - Hans-Jurgen von Bose's 'Scene' for a big mixed ensemble and full of events, unpredictable yet coherent and interesting. The concert wound up with a clever-clever piece by Jonathan Lloyd, who has written some inventive music in the past. 'Marching to a Different Song' was a setting for high soprano (Fiona O'Neill) and mixed ensemble of Lloyd's own text, meant to express the artist's search for his voice. Corny dramatic jokes, like players coming on late, merely drew attention to Lloyd's creative predicament, which I trust was only temporary.