MUSIC / Of old and new: Robert Maycock on the Docklands Sinfonietta at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

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The Independent Culture
It looked like a dream concert - sensuous Polish songs surrounded by easy-going French music and some lightweight Haydn - and the foyer was crowded.

The crowds, however, were waiting for the South Indian violin music in the Purcell Room. More of that later, though, because most of the news from the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, is good, starting with the playing of the Docklands Sinfonietta.

Well-known orchestral players were dotted around the Docklands desks, and they delivered some fine wind solos. But the orchestra's character remains distinctive, founded on careful listening and shared enjoyment, like ensemble music writ large.

As for the programmes, their mix of old and new has probably made a leap too far to be a hit at the first outing. But it's worth making the leap with them. Friday's pieces reacted on one another in odd ways: Lutoslawski sounded like Ravel with new melodic quirks, the most 'advanced' music was some Szymanowski from 1915, and the most apparently modern was Roussel's Petite Suite.

The soprano Eileen Hulse scored the same success with Lutoslawski's Chantefleurs et Chantefables that these songs had had at their Proms world premiere two years ago. Robert Desnos's animal and flower poems, supposedly for children, have adult undertones that Lutoslawski teases out in his most overtly francophile music yet.

By comparison, the sinuous lines of Szymanowski's Songs of a Fairytale Princess for once sounded self-conscious and laboured.

Haydn's 'Distratto' Symphony went with pace and poise, Sian Edwards shaping the music as directly and unfussily as the rest, though something almost subliminal seemed missing in the relationship of conductor and orchestra, who were not watching her much. Is it to do with Edwards' constant, reflex-like movement on the rostrum?

By the end, the Indian programme next door hadn't yet reached its interval, so I looked in on the second half. It was a decent start by a newish promoter rather than a devastating event, but a reminder that London in the last couple of weeks has heard, more or less by chance, a procession of the subcontinent's greatest musicians. I attended concerts by the sarangi player Ram Narayan and the veteran of the shehnai, Ustad Bismillah Khan, that were exceptional in their intensity and atmosphere, while sitarists Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan have been performing too. Despite the apparent overkill, and some unfortunate clashes of dates, they have mostly had a lively following. Sir Leonard Hoffmann and the Arts Council's jurors should note that there's more to life than symphony orchestras.