Lontano | Union Chapel, London

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The Independent Culture

This second concert in Lontano's three-part series, mysteriously entitled Ritmo britannico!, was in fact a programme of British music of mainly "minimalist" (for want of a better word) tendencies. It was also one of those "new music" events that resemble the gatherings of an obscure cult - a small band of devotees gathering to celebrate a specialist sub-division of the already rather rarified world of contemporary classical music, while the other 99.9 per cent of humanity carried on unawares. A pity, as there was some worthwhile music to be heard.

This second concert in Lontano's three-part series, mysteriously entitled Ritmo britannico!, was in fact a programme of British music of mainly "minimalist" (for want of a better word) tendencies. It was also one of those "new music" events that resemble the gatherings of an obscure cult - a small band of devotees gathering to celebrate a specialist sub-division of the already rather rarified world of contemporary classical music, while the other 99.9 per cent of humanity carried on unawares. A pity, as there was some worthwhile music to be heard.

Graham Fitkin has a voice very much all of his own - a sort of busy lyricism. His "Ardent" mixed sweeping ensemble passages with cool flute interludes and faintly ecclesiastical piano cadences to create a whole that was musically beguiling and convincing. The "Three Melodies and Two Interludes" by Laurence Crane that followed was a rather cryptic work for alto flute and vibraphone, full of beautiful mellow sounds, but all very slow and somehow not seeming to lead anywhere. Perhaps it wasn't meant to?

Then a world premiÿre from Rachel Leach, "Incompatible Compatibles" (it was a night of quirky titles), for large ensemble. From its broad opening gesture the piece gathered momentum as the harmony became denser, the oboe featuring largely in music that was evocative and confidently delineated. It might have gone on longer, given the weight of the material (but brevity is a rare and commendable virtue in contemporary music).

Gabriel Jackson is another composer with a strong and distinctive manner; unapologetically tonal, his curiously named clarinet quintet, In Prairial and Thermidor, began with dancing rhythms and mostly open harmonies. Those rhythms were very tricky in places, especially in the virtuosic clarinet part, but in the second part of the work there was some respite when the music turned towards the pastoral and modal - again, slightly ecclesiastical - atmosphere of a requiem.

The second half began with a work that didn't seem to fit in. Ian Willcock's "A Catalogue of Targets" was evidently the music of a very angry man (angry, it seems, about "American imperialist aggression", according to his heavily tendentious programme note). If 20 minutes or so of incessantly loud, dissonant violence contributes somehow to useful political debate, then no doubt this was a significant piece, but musically speaking the effect was grim. Apparently this composer's work goes down well at new music festivals in Holland and Germany.

Lontano, under the baton of the redoubtable Odaline de la Martinez, demonstrated a high level of dedication and multi-instrumental skill. Howard Skempton's engaging "Spadesbourne Suite" - succinct pizzicato - provided relief, as did John White's curious "Spring Humlet", evoking the quirky spirit of Percy Grainger. Robert Keeley's "Quetzalli" was vivid - almost too reminiscent of Messiaen, with its Guatemalan birdsong - but its resonant melodic lines were most effective. The concert ended with a rather pointless arrangement of "As Time Goes By" by Steve Martland. But at least it wasn't loud.

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