The Park Lane Group's Young Artists Series Purcell Room, London

The Park Lane Group's January concert series for young artists, among the most senior and respected of such nurseries of talent, this year displayed a marked proclivity for the nether regions of instrumental timbre. Cello, viola and bassoon were prominently to be heard, along with guitar, voice and piano. There was also a featured composer, Anthony Payne, born 1936 and young at heart and, like the PLG itself, a respected and inspiring presence on the British musical scene.

A creative figure who writes with equal confidence in small and large genres, Payne was an ideal choice for two practical reasons: he works closely with performing musicians; and his art, rich in English music yet open to foreign voices, offers poetry of a rare and subtle order. Amid the Winds of Evening, for example, stood out in violist Ashan Pillai's Tuesday recital for its evocative use of viola timbre. An elegantly nostalgic vision of drifting leaves, it felt just the right length. Only Nigel Clarke's Flashpoint projected a similar sense of appropriate eloquence, with silence, that most awkward of aural ingredients, deftly handled in a brightly tessellated musical structure.

A player to watch, Pillai and his readings, which also included a Milhaud sonata and The North Shore by Gavin Bryers, were interleaved with bassoon pieces played by Julia Staniforth. Both Adam Gorb's The Dying of the Light and Payne's The Enchantress Plays took verse as their inspiration, namely by Dylan Thomas and Housman. The bassoon is most pleasant when recalling another instrument; in these two fragments Staniforth's tone was often that of a mellow, beguiling saxophone. In Graham Sheen's Endsong she worked with plain material. Capriccio, by Sally Beamish, offered a sharper profile, a reminder that the essence of humour is to be short, if not sweet.

Alexander Taylor's early evening recital on Wednesday gave notice of another gifted player who tackles new repertoire with insight and technical accomplishment. For all his effort, the thread that bound Martin Butler's Piano Sonata proved difficult to grasp. Frederic Rzewski's Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, however, received a thunderous delivery that was all the more gripping for Taylor's innocent manner. He certainly found his way inside Marina Adamia's Five Pieces of 1992, glittering shards of invention, atonal in an old fashioned way, yet focused through the vision of an interesting musical mind. In another of Payne's nature poems, Song Without End, Taylor used delicate pedalling to balance dry yet resonant chords against a restlessly repeated figure that at last made peace with itself in a conclusion of veiled Debussian mystery.

The main evening concert that followed began with the unusual sight of identical twins: Peter and Zoltan Katona's guitar duo. Of Leo Brouwer's experimental Per Suonare a Due they made a pleasing comedy. Mate Hollos's attractive Gemini Guitars drew no less engaging playing in more traditional styles. Then there was aggressive cello music from Jamie Walton, who found something of his own to say in Three Enigmas by Colin Matthews, and Walton's late Passacaglia for solo cello.

Rebecca Gulliver had also played solo cello items on Monday, giving an impressive rosta of contemporary pieces. Dutilleux's Trois Strophes and Jonathan Harvey's Curve with Plateaux were most memorable. But the defining polarity of this event was vocal: between the Hardy settings of Nicholas Mew's Six Interiors and the John Hollander texts of Elliott Carter's Of Challenge and of Love, sung with distinction by soprano Geraldine McGreavey. Not everything was perfect in these readings, of course. But as with the other PLG performers, the faults seemed less like grievances than stepping stones to successn

Nicholas Williams

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