Classical music: Graham Fitkin Group Arnolfini, Bristol

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Indy Lifestyle Online
That the noted Estonian composer and reclusive mystic Arvo Part is a big fan of the Righteous Brothers was previously unknown, but in the second of two Part-works arranged for piano and violin the influence of "Unchained Melody" was plain to hear. All it lacked was a boozy tenor, going, "Oh, my lurve ..." Perhaps it was the recent hit version by the blokes from Soldier, Soldier on TV that had first captivated Part, via satellite relays of UK Gold.

Fitkin - once a minimalist, but now sounding more maximal with every new piece - is one of the most important of our younger composers, and both the programme and the method of presentation for his own ensemble seemed designed to get away from received notions of classical music as stuffy or un-cool. The group's avoidance of the "informal" classical muso's uniform of Paisley waistcoats was a plus (they were all in black, natch), but there were minuses, too: no programme-notes, musicians introduced by their first names only, and an amplified sound for the sextet that would be wearyingly treble-heavy even for a fan of jangly guitar bands.

As well as the Part, there were references to another of minimalism's big cheeses, Steve Reich, with a two-man version of that old favourite "Clapping Music", and the totemic presence on stage of a marimba. Fitkin's own music came across as often ingratiatingly nice: well-mannered meditations for two clarinets, violin, cello, piano and tuned-percussion, delivered with a sprightly gait almost as French as Poulenc. Only in the final and notably longer than usual piece, "Ironic", described by the composer as "a bit of a monster", did the music really challenge. "Ironic", however, demanded more of his listeners, and his group, than they may be able to take without compromising the easy, congenial air of this performance.

Phil Johnson