MUSIC / When once is quite enough: Paragon Ensemble - Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
Playing a new work twice in the same concert was a bad habit that developed in the Sixties, partly because the music was presumed to be too difficult to understand first time, but really because players were unwilling to rehearse anything else.

Another dreary Sixties habit was to talk about music as well as to play it, and the Paragon Ensemble managed to make both mistakes in its Queen's Hall concert on Tuesday. Clearly, the daunting task of performing two premieres had given them terminal neurosis. And so we had to listen to several minutes of chitchat with the two soloists and composers, which, to my mind, simply alienates listeners.

It was a pity, for John McLeod's Incredible Vistas was an extremely good piece, thoroughly professional and sophisticated, and the mixed ensemble of strings, wind and percussion tackled it well under the clear direction of David Davies.

With a solo part for free-bass accordion (Owen Murray), it was not in any way a concerto: the reedy accordion timbre was used as an ingredient in a series of colourful and evocative landscapes snapped from another planet. Each texture was accurately envisioned; the dark hum of thick instrumental chordings, the jingling, tapping and growling, the moments of warm lyricism and the dry rattle of col legno, contrasted with the parallel chords that result from the layout of accordion keys.

There were obvious passages of reprise that helped to guide one through the rapid changes. Only the ending, a controlled fade to a death- rattle of woodblock that recalled Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, seemed unconvincing.

Philip Norris's Horn Theatre was on quite a different plane. The composer's joky programme note tried to suggest that the intention was humorous: the soloist comes running on stage, pinches and tweaks his tone and bungles a passage from Mozart, while his accompanists stamp their feet, applaud prematurely, blow trombone glissandi and shimmy off into jolly tunes from the world of French Dada. It's a showpiece for its soloist and Hugh Potts survived magnificently.

But it was all on the surface. On the level of actual invention, there seemed an inability to carry things forward: any attractive ideas soon ran out of steam and sulked into ostinato. Much of the farce simply misfired; you wondered who was making a fool of whom and, like most bad boys, the composer seemed at last rather confused.