Park Lane Group, Purcell Room, London

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The Independent Culture

For longer than I can remember, the Park Lane Group has presented its Young Artists Series in the first days of January.

For longer than I can remember, the Park Lane Group has presented its Young Artists Series in the first days of January. In fact, there have been 48 seasons, in which such artists as Sir Thomas Allen, John Ogdon, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Steven Isserlis have all performed in their earliest years.

The unusual aspect of the series is the presenting not only of gifted youngsters but the combining of performing talent to the needs of new (or newish) music. It should be Brownie points all round, and yet the reasoning is, I think, flawed. The problem is the concerts themselves. Young artists have yet to find their feet in terms of a well-developed musical personality, and new work tends, by and large, to lack personality, too. So the combination of unknown talent and unknown work can be tough on performer, composer and audience.

It is not entirely clear how the FCs (featured composers) get chosen - "The FCs are never chosen in advance as doing so would have a constrictive effect..." Rather, it seems that, almost by osmosis, the young artists short-listed at audition suggest work and, somehow, this boils down to the choice of one, two or three FCs. But in some years, there are none. And indeed, of the 10 concerts in the series this year, with FCs Tippett and Dai Fujikura, three have no works by either composer.

The pattern of the five-day event is two concerts per day all in the Purcell Room. At Monday's later concert, pitifully attended, the line-up was not the easiest: a solo bassoon with pianist, and a solo pianist. Bassoonist Adam Mackenzie is undoubtedly fiercely talented, but great new work for the bassoon was undoubtedly not presented. John Casken's Blue Medusa (2003) was little more than contrapuntal doodling; Anthony Payne's The Enchantress Plays (1991) was written in such a way that dodgy intonation between piano and bassoon was unkindly clear. Only Philippe Hersant's Niggun (1993) for solo bassoon introduced extended techniques - slap-tonguing and multiphonics - that made the piece clearly structured and arresting.

The 18-year-old pianist Alissa Firsova performed work by her father, Dmitri Smirnov, Schnittke, Tippett, and her own The Endless Corridor (already Op 10). Playing by heart, she is clearly a highly expressive performer, but despite her training in this country, she has a pronounced tendency to thump the piano Russian-style.

Series ends tonight; PLG Young Composers' New Year Symposium, QEH foyer, London SE1 (0870 380 0400), tomorrow and Sunday, from 10.30am

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