London Sinfonietta/Knussen | Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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Concerts like last Wednesday's London Sinfonietta gig ought to be compulsory for anyone who thinks contemporary music is nasty, difficult stuff. This was enormous fun and Oliver Knussen is the perfect conductor for such occasions: he unfolds the most complex scores as naturally as a well-told story.

Prelude to Breaking (1986) by Per Nÿrgård, at 67 the leading figure in Danish music, was measured and slow, like a temple ritual, calmly building up power and passion. Knussen gave us it twice; it was even better second time around.

Robert Zuidam's Address to the New Tay Bridge (1997) sets the great McGonagall set to music, treading a careful line between tongue-in-cheek send-up and a respectful treatment. Zuidam's unusual scoring - the soprano of Lucy Shelton was accompanied by four cellos, double-bass, two pianos and percussion- brought a kaleidoscope of inventive colour.

Nÿrgård's two-piano Unendlicher Empfang ("Infinite Acceptance", from Rilke; 1997) was a weird and witty toccata, a wild chase of dislocated rhythms intermittently joined by four metronomes.Rolf Hind and Nicholas Hodges revelled in it.

One of the critic's most delicate tasks is reviewing the efforts of colleagues. In this instance, the potential problem was the UK premiere of the Concerto for Horn and Ensemble by Bayan Northcott, the first music critic of this very paper. Luckily, his concerto turns out to be compelling, exciting, even thrilling. His scoring, for four strings, four woodwind, piano and percussion, is rich and detailed, and often luminously lovely, while the horn - the sterling Michael Thompson - swoops and keens above. The textures, rarely still, are animated by a nervous, skittish humour that eventually builds to a giddy, swirling close. This is real music.

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