Endymion Ensemble, Purcell Room, London

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The Independent Culture

Vic Hoyland, 60 this year, is among the generation of British composers that came to the fore while operating in the slipstream of European Modernism in the Sixties and Seventies. If his heroes - Luciano Berio among them - and his preoccupations with the voice, text and theatre receded in importance for him over the years, they have continued to feed the small but individual output of a real, and underrated, composer.

Endymion offered, in its birthday tribute, only two works by Hoyland himself, both more than two decades old: opportunities lost there, surely. It was good, all the same, to hear both his Esem and Fox in the context of a range of work mainly by his mentors and his professional associates.

Esem for Solo Bass and Ensemble had to be rescued from the warehouse of his former publishers, Universal Edition, in Vienna, for this performance. It reveals immediately its composer's characteristic sound-world, mixing mellow lyricism and jittery chatter into some scrumptuous instrumental writing and, once the piece gets going, some real drama too; there was even a Hammond organ to give period flavour. Corrado Canonici was the lively soloist.

That Modernist soundworld in which sonorous allure is combined with hard-edged vigour and, in the best examples, is underpinned by searching intellect, was reflected in most of the works that followed; warbling flutes and clarinets, shimmering harp and vibraphone are often essential ingredients.

Pierre Boulez's Derive I and Bernard Rands' Memo I showed where Hoyland's style had come from; two pieces by David Sawer, including the lovely Goodnight and the premiere of the Naomi Pinnock's Skirr - demonstrating a similar flair for the theatricality of musical gestures - showed where that style had gone.

Fox (after a Braque engraving and the "foxing" of books) is, like Goodnight, less beholden to Modernist manners. This attentive account - efficiently conducted by Bruce Nockles - offered ample proof of Hoyland's achievements: sharp-eared as the animal after which the piece is emphatically not named and, in its final pages, highly moving as well as elegantly wrought.

Keith Potter

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