MUSIC / North wind: New Music - The Place

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The Independent Culture
At first, the Place Theatre looks and sounds like London's forgotten new music venue. Spartan, matt black walls and hangings recall the ICA, but this is bigger and friendlier, with an acoustic that is dryish but not deadening. It seems ideal - until Euston Road makes its distinctive contribution. Granted this wasn't so much of a problem on Tuesday; assertive pieces like Kaija Saariaho's Amers or Magnus Lindberg's Joy are quite capable of fending for themselves. But the more delicate moments of Anders Nordentoft's Moment and Thorkell Sigurbjornsson's Kalais demanded cat-like concentration.

After this one hearing, Moment remained enigmatic. A short, jerky, pointillist prelude quickly subsides into quiet near-stillness - like the opening material very much slowed down. Some of the sounds are lovely, but what they might add up to is hard to say. Paavo Heininen's Jeu I was easier to grasp. In many ways it sounded like a typical product of the early eighties: effect-saturated, but tentatively edging towards a more mellifluous style. Near the end came a passage of almost pure flute lyricism, deliciously harmonised by the piano - if only there had been more, and sooner.

At first, Thorkell Sigurbjornsson's Kalais seemed equally bent on using every flute effect in the book. But lyricism emerged much more quickly, and eventually it took over completely. As a final surprise, Ingela Oien deftly removed the head joint from her flute and drew astonishing 'Japanese' sounds from the body of the instrument.

Saariaho, deviser of this 'Tender Is the North' mini-series, was herself featured in Tuesday's Avanti concert, with a new work, Amers, for cello, ensemble and electro-acoustics. The French title refers to 'navigation beacons', and to a set of poems about the sea by Saint-John Perse. Saariaho's cellist navigates his way through a sea of sounds, some instrumental, some amplified, some electronic. The sound- world created is imaginative and very individual. But not all the intricate processes described in the note were audible. A lingering doubt: is Amers really a concert piece, or would the ideal medium be a well-mixed CD?

Magnus Lindberg's Joy, on the other hand, is a concert piece and proud of it. One needs to see the players working hard, and to feel the bass line vibrating through the floor. Conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste steered the Avanti players expertly through the rapids, and the near half-hour clock duration seemed to pass in no time at all.

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