This was a pretty odd collection of vocal and chamber music with world premieres sitting next to music composed in the 1500s. The performances were stunning and the sheer variety on the programme was refreshing.
The first work All the Ends of the Earth was a choral piece by Judith Weir, subtly punctuated by harp, bells and marimba. The dry sound of Cadogan Hall wasnt very supportive of the solo vocal passages, but a devotional aspect was achieved in the swelling and soaring of the BBC Singers.
Following that was Ithaca by Thea Musgrave this one started deliciously, but the tale of Odysseus wasnt satisfyingly told, since the rhythmic stance of the piece never really changed, and none of the grit or struggle of what we know the story of The Odyssey to be only a few lines of text (Beware the Cyclops etc.) popped out to be audible and remind the audience what the piece was supposed to be about.
If the text was only occasionally made explicit in Musgraves Ithaca, it never was in Bayan Northcotts Hymn to Cybele. All sorts of problems with this piece; messy fog of sounds, the chorus drowning out the double bass and percussion, (not the fault of David Hill conducting, but of the composer) and ultimately a seriously flawed work. Some fantastic singing, but no clarity of text, obviously vital in narrative music, among the muddy sound.
The most arresting and challenging piece of the concert was Brian Ferneyhoughs string quartet Dum transisset sabbatum I-IV. As with much of his work, the question is always whether to attempt to keep up with the dizzying onrush of notes and noises, or to just accept the music as a solid entity of sound. Either way it was a stunning display of virtuosity and poise, with a particularly beautiful and haunting movement in which all members of the Arditti Quartet used practice mutes to muffle and distort the timbre of their instruments. Wonderful, in every sense of the word.
There was something faintly silly about Jonathan Harveys Piece Dum transisset sabbatum, which presented none of the novel, or even experimental sides of his work, and was a bitter disappointment perhaps his idea was to put a new slant on the ancient religious text, but it didnt really cohere. The final work by Gabriel Jackson, In nomine Domini, used direct, simple and honest force and though almost tame (especially in comparison to Ferneyhough), there was something affecting and genuine being said.