BBC PO/RNCM New Ensemble, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Anniversaries seem to be driving the concert calendar now, so it was refreshing to find the BBC Philharmonic and Royal Northern College of Music collaborating on a small festival celebrating the music of the 54-year-old composer Poul Ruders.

The quiet Dane who made a big noise with his opera The Handmaid's Tale has a habit of shaking up audiences. In his Second Symphony - with which the BBC PO closed the short composer portrait titled From the Abyss to the Stars - Ruders enjoys the notion that the audience, though gripped, doesn't know where it's going. It nearly didn't; listeners deserve programme notes, and a superficial interview with the composer doesn't offer nearly enough signposts for this complex half-hour work.

The original image (a 27-bar theme) is distorted sometimes almost beyond recognition. The work's invention, derived from an element of endless permutations like change ringing, suggests an ascetic rigour. Vivid, dense orchestration creates storms of drama, especially in the relentlessly beating drum, tolling piano, swirling strings and snarling brass. It was difficult picking out the stars, although the abyss beckoned clearly enough.

Earlier, Rolf Hind gave a dazzling performance of Ruders' Piano Concerto, cascades of notes tumbling with a demonic edginess, ghostly fragments of dislocated dance in the "swashbuckling" rondo finale blowing away the soloist's long central song without words.

James Macmillan conducted the BBC Philharmonic, the fleet strings alternately fidgeting restlessly and drawing long, sweeping brush-strokes in music with defined, sculptural textures. Pointed woodwind added such colour that you hardly noticed the absence of percussion.

The RNCM New Ensemble brought out the toughness of Abysm, gravely capturing the sinister quality of the "dark backward" of time, chirruping like trapped birds and circulating appropriately dismally in the shadow blue of the closing "Spectre". Liesbeth Allart was an ideal advocate for the Oboe Concerto, so accomplished in interpretation that one was hardly aware of the rock-solid technique.