This year's first four concerts on Sunday and Monday set a pragmatic tone, where new pieces acknowledging traditional performance values - rhythmic argument, sequential emphasis, dramatic character, muscularity - predominated. If there was little psychological adventure, there was much that was colourful, atmospheric, affecting, dazzling.
The outstanding flautist Emily Beynon had been provided by Matthew Taylor with a piece that was, well, Taylor- made. Images in Spring bounded and flourished like Tippett in birdland, then sank to low tones that were quiet, slow and luscious. Accompanied with biting intelligence by the pianist Andrew Zolinsky, Beynon brought the same sparkling passagework, and the same fund of sensuous, imaginative tone, to the short, sharp, contrasted episodes that made up Nigel Clarke's deft new Chinese Puzzles. A welcome revival was Barry Guy's Whistle and Flute (1985), for flutes and eight-track tape - burbling folk cadences weirdly echoed and reprocessed.
Violinist Clio Gould came alive in Hugh Wood's Poem for violin and piano, a work written for her, and expressing in its big, clanging Bartokian chords, and its melodious, proliferating sequences, the generosity and fire of her own character as a performer. Within a familiar vocabulary this piece ventured further than most into passions and shapes that were wayward, interior, not pictorial.
So did Barry Conyngham's Awakening for solo harp, veering from predictable jazz-based chords and routinely mysterious arpeggios into whispered, murky or scraped sonorities that had a real sense of emotional adventure. Marshall McGuire, who gave the first performance in Sydney in 1991, brought it to London on Monday along with some Takemitsu and a Michael Finnissy premiere called Tchaikovsky 5 and 12, strewn with haunting wind-blown fragments. McGuire proved capable of creating spaces where soft sounds could become magical.
With so many concerts, involving so much new work, accidents happen. On Sunday pianist Lisa Loh stepped in at very short notice to play, from memory and with some attractive flashes of energy and lyricism, substantial pieces by Dutilleux, Messiaen and Moret. The piano programme of Olga Balakleets - Stockhausen, Butler, Finnissy and Suslin - again showed the newest piece, Butler's On the Rocks, to be the most blithely grateful and derivative: smoochy Debussy with arpeggios like fountains. The boldness, finesse and care of Balakleets's playing were impressive, but still need to be taken up a few notches.
Perhaps it's the year of the woodwinds: oboist Jonathan Kelly played Richard Rodney Bennett's After Syrinx I with startling brilliance, and brought endless resources of colour and rhythm to the bright cross-cut minimalist dapplings of Jonathan Dove's new Music for a Lovelorn Lenanshee. Alison Procter accompanied, with rhythmic ESP.
Final concerts today, tomorrow: 6.30 /8.00 Purcell Room, South Bank Centre SE1 (071-928 8800)Reuse content