Music Sara Stowe Purcell Room, London

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Like several of today's female groups, pianist Kate Ryder and soprano Sara Stowe restore the feel-good factor to new music by running the show their own way. And, as Sunday's "Sound-Moving-Sound" showed, if your heart's there, it doesn't take much effort to bring out the fun.

Not that all experimental music is meant to raise a laugh, although collapsing music stands and such can often make it seem that way. But this was an evening when nothing went wrong - even between the pieces - because the girls did it all themselves. There was even time for Stowe to slip into something dashing for the final number. Perfect planning.

And the programme, reflecting Joyce's blend of music and words, was no less artfully prepared, mixing types of the new with types of the... familiar? John Cage, after all, could never be typecast as old - original and best of sonic explorers, more like, as the famous pairing of The Wonderful Widow of 18 Springs and Nowth upon Nacht showed. Ryder moved with ease from tapped piano lid to prepared piano, sounding in Daughters of the Lonesome Isle like a gamelan crossed with a tambourine. Four songs from George Crumb's Apparition took Ryder further within the instrument, where she gently brushed the strings as a backing to Stowe's poignant account of the Whitman texts. Three Scelsi miniatures, witty and poignant, made a pleasing sorbet to this "classical" course.

New new-music made up the rest. Two works for piano, Karmella Tsepkolenko's Evening Patience and Deirdre Gribbin's Waking in Laughtears, were both impressive, Tsepkolenko's for her focused language (and theatre with a wicked pack of cards), Gribbin's for her sheer unfocused anger, which soon outgrew its roots in Finnegans Wake.

The missing factor was a sense that her intervals were not just passengers but actual sources of musical momentum. It's a common problem, the choice between expressionist rhetoric and the pleasing harmonic warbles of Jeremy Peyton-Jones's Dante,for example, leaving scant middleground. Neatly avoiding the problem with a single vocal line in Sara and Her Castanets, Adrian Jack offered a parody scena of Spanish operatic styles in a perfectly timed comedy. It was delivered with panache by its dedicatee, singing the kind of noises most of us emit when carolling in the bath to an empty household.

NICHOLAS WILLIAMS

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