Endymion | Purcell Room, London

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The Independent Culture

These days, with no Fires of London, it is just a few instrumental beacons - Endymion, Psappha, Capricorn, Spectrum, BCMG, the Gavin Bryars Ensemble - who keep contemporary and 20th-century chamber repertoire aflame.

These days, with no Fires of London, it is just a few instrumental beacons - Endymion, Psappha, Capricorn, Spectrum, BCMG, the Gavin Bryars Ensemble - who keep contemporary and 20th-century chamber repertoire aflame.

The far from sleepy Endymion is one of London's hardy perennials. It has versatility, range, diversity, and a host of top-notch instrumental talent. Yet it played its latest concert to only a half-full Purcell Room. The grapevine clearly needs watering.

Endymion's ongoing series, Composer Choice, is full of nuggets. Birtwistle, Knussen and Turnage have already had their say. And there is more to come. Sandy Goehr has included Hanns Eisler and rare Webern in his choice for Tuesday, February 15; George Benjamin has plumped for an alluring mix of Carter, Copland and Ravel's shimmering Chansons Madecasses for Thursday, March 9.

This week was Jonathan Dove's turn. Dove included only one of his own pieces, and possibly not the right one. His "Figures in a Garden", a set of lively Serenades for wind octet, composed for Glyndebourne and besprinkled with chirpy ostinati and fleeting Mozartian quotations, are a cheerful divertissement, perhaps best heard over clinking glasses and invigorated (or sultry) opera talk. The audience deserved another glimpse of Dove's self-admittedly kleptomaniac gifts: a fragment of his bewitching operas Siren Song and Tobias and the Angel, or a downsized pirouette from his new Flute Concerto, due to be premiered at Milton Keynes' new concert hall this month.

Helen Keen's flute susurrations were one of the overriding pleasures of this engaging Endymion showcase. Dove's selection, backed by his pithy introduction, was another. He included two miniaturist gems: Stravinsky's Pastorale, for soprano and wind quintet (coloured by reedy cor anglais); and Bernstein's breathless La Bonne Cuisine, a gorgeously unpredictable fricassee of queue de boeuf (oxtail), lapin and melted beurre, a kind of Songs of the Auvergne meets Les Illuminations. Eileen Hulse was the artfully ungarbled soprano soloist.

There were fewer susurrations in the rest of the programme. Unfortunately the now-ageing Purcell room tends to overamplify, and Michael Dussek's sustaining pedal raised the echoey decibels of Poulenc's delicious Sextet a fraction too high. The quality of performance was not in doubt, however: stylish Mozart (the K375 Serenade for Wind Octet); a wonderful Auric-like bustling in the Poulenc - like taxis honking in Clichy; and a riveting performance of Stravinsky's revised l920s Octet.

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