By Andrew Clements
From The Guardian - Monday May 15, 2006
News from the UK, the second of the London Sinfonietta's new-music showcases at St Luke's, was conducted by Zsolt Nagy, and devoted to music with homegrown connections. All five composers represented were born between 1963 and 1973, and their works were all receiving premieres of one kind or another. It was a rather indigestible affair, with just too much unfamiliar music to assimilate fully in a single concert. As it was, the most impressive and memorable works came from the two composers who were also the most familiar, Philip Cashian and Richard Ayres.
Cashian's brand new Piano Concerto may have been formally quite conventional - three movements, the opening one discursive and confrontational, the second slow and mostly a piano solo, and the finale hectic and propulsive - but filled that frame with striking ideas, satisfyingly varied piano writing (incisively delivered by soloist Sarah Nicolls) and some equally characterful ensemble writing. Ayres's engaging and perplexing No 24, his NONcerto for horn composed in 2002, was receiving its first London performance. Requiring a doorway and a Powerpoint presentation as well as a peripatetic solo horn (the splendidly imperturbable Michael Thompson), two harps and and a wind-heavy ensemble, its three movements describe episodes in the life of Ayres's imaginary artist Valentine Tregashian, and a mysterious woman called Anna Filipiova, though more generally I think it's about the horn's place in European myth making.
The rest seemed pallid by comparison. Bryn Harrison's overlong ensemble piece Four Cycles presented the same musical material from different perspectives, in which what colour and energy there was in the music seemed gradually to be leached away, while Joanna Bailie's compact string quartet, Five Famous Adagios, followed a similar trajectory as it moved away from the Bach quotations from which it all derived. Saed Haddad's trio Le Contredésir, described as a homage to Helmut Lachenmann, was an exercise in melodic identity and raw-edged expressiveness that made its point pithily enough and with a minimum of fuss.