Despite its estimable and ongoing New Music Commissioning Fund - still raising an endowment to secure future commissions - the Spitalfields Festival seems less strong on new works this year than in 2002, when the composer Jonathan Dove became its artistic director. However, in 2004, there are still many potentially exciting things on offer.
Bangladeshi music now added to Jewish and Huguenot, for instance, to celebrate Spitalfields' rich ethnic history. But, on paper, new work has a somewhat cautious and overfamiliar air about it. A new piece from Judith Weir - a former festival director and founder of the Commission Fund - is nevertheless always welcome. The medium of piano and solo strings is one that she has made very much her own, despite the problems of over- association with standard classical repertoire and the lack of timbral blend that put so many composers off the piano trio, quartet and quintet.
Weir's drily titled "Piano Trio Two", enterprisingly commissioned by festival patron George Law and premiered by the excellent Florestan Trio, is a 15-minute piece in three movements that come with the sort of poetic titles for which she is famous; here all are derived from Zen anecdotes. "How Grass and Trees Become Enlightened" gleefully decorates a song of the composer's own with her familiar, subtly shifting metric patterns, rhythmic unisons and glacial harmonics. Its dramatic instrumental interplay - which pianist Susan Tomes, violinist Anthony Marwood and cellist Richard Lester clearly relish - and blunt, throwaway ending are a delight, but as a whole the movement feels too fragmented. "Your light may go out" has a pungently lyrical string melody inflected with quartertones, and a piano part that feels out of kilter with the strings. The movement's progression to a point, as the composer says, "where darkness and light meet", is much more convincing. The final movement, "Open Your Own Treasure House", steers vivaciously close to a number of different musical styles, including that of Janacek. Yet, as almost always with Weir, she manages to make everything sound uncannily her own. The final crash of the closing piano keyboard lid announces another abrupt movement ending to this most engaging addition to the piano trio repertoire.
Beethoven's "Opus 1 Number 1 E Flat Piano Trio", played with energy and insight, and Ravel's masterly "Piano Trio in A Minor" completed the evening. The combination of insightful care and spontaneity that characterised the third movement of the Ravel, observable in everything from Lester's control of vibrato at the opening to the excitingly orchestral sound and virtuosity of its big climax, symbolised these performers' playing all evening, even though it felt like the hottest night of the year.
The festival continues to 25 June (020-7377 1362)
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