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This formidable climax to the concert followed three shorter no less challenging works by younger composers which the Elysium interpreted with conviction and enjoyment. A short modal motive from Peruvian Inca music was the inspiration for Dansaq II, a set of six variations by the Mexico-based Peruvian composer Aurelio Tello. With each variation set into relief by pauses, the piece is a kind of group of miniatures, in which a limited harmonic palette is offset by the inventive contrasts in sonorities and textures. The idea of interaction explored in each variation led to translucence in the improvisational first variation sharply contrasted by an almost jazzy variation in which the second violin and viola are strummed like guitars. Another evocation of Latin American music occurs in the third variation with pizzicato and percussive gestures that trace delicate patterns, leading to the eerie overtones of the fourth with a frenetic cello tremolando, and more thickly scored concluding sections.

If the fragmentariness suggested a kind of study for quartet, An Outburst of Time by Phillip Neil Martin seemed, on the other extreme, almost classical in its organic unity, and somewhat tradition-bound. The piece used similar, contemporary tremolo and trilling gestures within a far more logical structure based on sonata principle, creating a three movement, fast-slow-fast design. Martin has an impressive array of awards, including the 2003 RPO Prize and a piano work selected for the 2005 ISCM festival. Yet while his piece is admirably technically accomplished and full of clever textural complexities and contrasts, I found the material too limited and predictably developed, lacking an inner motivation, as if the quartet were four greyhounds running around a race track with no hare in sight.

Though far shorter and less complex, Midnight All Day by the Japanese Dai Fujikura, the PLG's 'Featured Composer', evinced a more compelling imagination, transforming recurrent grating, umcomfortable sounds of scraping bows into an expressive, even beautiful effect, as also the intervening tremolo textures and final spiralling gesture in the first violin. The PLG series, as ever, offers a valuable platform for outstanding talent, and this concert was no exception: the Elysium Quartet has a promising career ahead and one hopes to see its release of contemporary music recordings, and more concert appearances, in the near future.

Copyright © 13 January 2005 Malcolm Miller, London UK







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