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The Independent Culture

"Congratulations to the Park Lane Group on its first 50 years," reads an advert in the programme book for the PLG's 50th season. The group has the worthiest of aims, principal among them being the presenting of young artists performing contemporary music - some by the young, some by the not so young. The list of artists who have gone on to become stars is impressive: Thomas Allen, Steven Isserlis, John Ogdon, the Nash Ensemble, the Arditti Quartet and others.

In all the time I've been attending this annual New Year Young Artists Series - 35 years, on and off - the formula has been basically the same. Perhaps much of the audience has too, with loyal supporters all getting a little longer in the tooth.

There's no denying that the standard of performance is exceptional. In the first two concerts on one day (of 12 in five days), the Carducci String Quartet, the Lancier Brass Quintet and the pianist Alasdair Beatson astonished with their ability and maturity. But it is a marathon: the earlier concert ended 15 minutes before the start of the second, so the feel was of a near-four-hour concert. Just before the end, my heart sank to read: "There are nine continuous short movements..." This was a shame because John White's Doggerel Machine for brass quintet splendidly mimicked the music of the Ealing Studios comedies and the Lanciers played it so well.

The PLG picked up on eight other anniversaries, including Wolfgang. In these two concerts, Kurtag (80), Dutilleux (90 and an official "featured composer"), and Joseph Horovitz (80), were celebrated, but there were also works by Michael Zev Gordon (another featured composer), Berio, Timothy Jackson, Edward Shipley, Richard Causton, William Balcom and White.

Beatson's performance (without score) of Dutilleux's 1948 Piano Sonata was outstanding. Here is a young artist of exceptional talent and confidence, making musical sense of all he played. And the Carducci gave a fine performance of Kurtag's Moments musicaux, the London premiere of his test piece for the 2005 Bordeaux Quartet Competition - which they won.

PLG Young Artists New Year Series runs to tomorrow (0870 380 0400)

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