MUSIC / Just the ticket: Stephen Johnson on the Platform 2 season at the ICA

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The Independent Culture
NEVER take the part for the whole - that was the message to anyone attending both Monday's and Tuesday's offerings at Joanna MacGregor's ICA Platform 2 new music festival. Monday's first concert, by the Danish accordion partnership Duo Danica, was an astonishing showcase for this bizarre fusion of harmonica and medieval portative organ, most of all in the pocket Petrushka Suite that ended the programme. Of the new pieces, the ones that worked were the ones with fewest pretensions: Jacob Ter Veldhuis's cinematic Views from a Dutch Train and Ketil Hvoslef's musical fairy-tale Fantasy. Even then it was hard to suppress the suspicion that the performances were more interesting than the things performed.

That was not the impression after the main Monday evening concert, a selection of new and new- ish pieces played by the Platform Ensemble, conducted by the young Scottish composer Alasdair Nicolson. Karl Aage Rasmussen's Parts Apart - a comic deconstruction of Stravinsky's idiosyncratic adaptation of Bach's Vom Himmel hoch variations - was played with subversive zest. Otherwise the energy levels needed to be pumped up considerably - the dust-dry ICA acoustic didn't help, but the grinding repetitions of Xenakis's Waarg might have sounded less like moronic clog-dancing in a more strongly shaped and sharply articulated performance.

In the same composer's Epicycles the cellist Oystein Birkeland worked intensely, and for the most part convincingly, at the folk-like instrumental cantilenas, but the orchestral passages sparked only fitfully. On this one hearing of the ensemble version, Alasdair Nicolson's Cradle Song of the Disappeared sounded like a not-too- comfortable blend of Birtwistle and Celtic modality. Simon Holt's Kites revealed little more than superficial elegance, and that also fitfully.

Tuesday's concert couldn't have been more refreshingly different. Opinions may differ as to whether Steve Martland's two-piano Drill provides the thrill, uplift and 'emotional response not to be found in the mainstream of British composition' promised by the programme-note, but it's possible to enjoy Martland's ideas and their workings-out, especially when played with the attention and determination that Joanna MacGregor and Rolf Hind devoted to it.

The thrill and uplift claimed for the Martland actually came in the percussionist Gert Sorensen's volcanic realisation of Ole Buck's Rejang. This may be another case of the performance upstaging the piece - but what a performance] Then the two-piano version of Nicolson's Cradle Song . . . was a pleasant surprise: the material was transformed, so much more of it now making sense.

Finally Poul Ruders's De profundis, for two pianos and percussion, brought the evening to a magnificent climax, the superbly engineered ascent from the depths to the heights of the keyboard conveying both exhilaration and a powerful sense of menace.

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