BCMG/Arditti Quartet/Brabbins/Hodges, CBSO Centre, Birmingham <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group continues to delight its ever-increasing audiences. A packed CBSO Centre enjoyed a typically diverse programme. And giving the world premiere of their latest Sound Investment commission, the BCMG played as if it were part of their core repertoire.

Scored for 10 instruments, Philip Cashian's Skein was, as its title suggests, woven from a tangle of different ideas. Teeming with prominent solos, especially for viola, the piece was effortlessly agile, with wispy textures and brimming with flights of fantasy. A sizzle-cymbal crash left to vibrate into the night provided a suitably enigmatic ending for this elusive work.

The Arditti Quartet joined Nicholas Hodges at the piano for the first of two pieces celebrating Vic Hoyland's 60th birthday. In his Piano Quintet (1990), the piano echoes the quartet, mirroring and commenting on their material. Classical and contained in a manner befitting its abstract title, the Quintet conveyed an underlying tension, alternating between episodes of monumental stillness and ferocious, nervous energy.

David Sawer's The Memory of Water, a 1993 BCMG commission, offered alluring textures, judicious development of ideas, hypnotic repetitions and jazzy syncopations, all bathed in a dewy Romanticism.

So high was the standard of performance by Hodges and the BCMG, that Harrison Birtwistle's Slow Frieze sounded like a mainstream staple. In a masterstroke of staging, the woodwind players were stationed up in the gallery, supplying the frieze of the title and draping the other performers with a harmonic backdrop from on high. A lucid, cogent account crowned by outstanding work from trumpet and percussion; Martyn Brabbins kept it tightly knit, coolly demystifying and humanising Birtwistle's inscrutable score.

Finally, in Vic Hoyland's dramatic Of Phantasy, the BCMG's first commission of 1989, the Arditti Quartet and BCMG players, under Brabbins' expert direction, made short work of any complexities, not least the oxygen-starved heights of the violin parts.