NEW MUSIC: Contemporary Music Day Brighton CNMP SBC, London

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The Independent Culture
"The old order changeth" has been the motto for the last few weeks, even at the Brighton Festival. Out have gone the Cambridge New Music Players as the resident performers for the annual day of contemporary music. In have come the Brunel Ensemble for the main evening concert, and the Collegiate Wind Ensemble, under David Campbell, for the lunchtime recital, both held last Saturday in the Church of St Nicholas.

Not to be outdone, however, the CNMP got in first with a Purcell Room recital on Wednesday. There were areas of overlap in the programme. Movements in Red, for example, by CNMP's artistic director Edward Dudley Hughes, was premiered at Brighton last year. It began the evening with a medley of instrumental lines in various styles, trumpet well to the fore, then nicely clarified, midway through, into bouncy minimalist textures. Smooth and assured, it made a good frame, with Musicians Wrestle Everywhere by Judith Weir, for Simon Adams' Serenata per undici strumenti, rough-edged yet deserving of accolades already received from the SPNM, and David Bruce's arresting study in Birtwistlian modes of continuity, Flowers in Stone.

The music of John Woolrich offered another overlap with Saturday's Brighton events. Generously, the CNMP gave two performances, the first and the second, of his strident Caprichos, four pieces based, in an unspecified way, on Goya. The last instalment of a set of three works, also including Dartington Doubles and From the Shadows, they were, themselves, like dark shadows of the 12 short panels of The Way Out Discovered, Woolrich's 1997 Brighton Festival commission, premiered on Saturday lunchtime. Here, too, were the forms of fanfare and chorale, though conveying softer, more emollient feelings. While Robert Saxton's Paraphrase on Mozart's Idomeneo showed a doughty sense of purpose, John McCabe's Rainforest III outstretched its plain materials. No such problem inhibited Ein Musikalisches Snookerspiel, a post-modern parody made up from Mozart's musical dice game by Gary Carpenter, a hot contender to provide the definitive ending for Mozart's unfinished Requiem.

Under their talented conductor Christopher Austin, the Brunel Ensemble have already accomplished much and still have far to travel. Space allowing, one might dwell on the inner links of their programme: the horn melodies and covert pastoralism revealed in Austin's precise reading of Britten's Sinfonietta, for example, making for interesting comparison with similar things in Richard Rodney Bennett's A Book of Hours. But praise is certainly due for the short and hectic ensemble piece Aruga by Adrian Williams, as for the fine playing of cellist Betsy Taylor that survived the rigor mortis of Nicola LeFanu's Deva.

Julian Grant looked East, to Uzbekistan, to evoke a clapped-out yet sinister female shaman in Hex, Brighton's other commission. Textures were clear and well balanced. The opening chords, as sharp and lethal as a sniper's bullet, led into a double-bass solo and colourful array of episodes that displayed all the flair for unfolding plot and narrative to be expected from this gifted musical dramatist.

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