This January’s Park Lane Group Young Artists Series is featuring 28 exceptional young performers over five concerts. Each concert further features a piece by a different contemporary composer each night, as well as one by an older, ‘Linked Composer’. On Monday the composer featured was Thomas Adès, who was ‘linked’ to Gerald Barry. The Muse Piano Quintet performed Barry's Piano Quartet no. 1 alongside Adès’ Piano Quintet, and the programme was completed by a number of pieces from flautist Rosanna Ter-Berg and pianist Leo Nicholson. While these differing groups did make for a slightly tag-team style of programming, there was a common thread of breezy virtuosity running through the whole recital.

Muse Piano Quintet, © Muse Piano Quintet / Alena Berezina
Muse Piano Quintet,
© Muse Piano Quintet / Alena Berezina

In the first half, Ter-Berg and Nicholson played André Jolivet’s Chant de Linos, a 1944 examination piece for the Paris Conservatoire, and Flute Music with an Accompaniment by Edwin Roxburgh. Both pieces were stretching in the extreme, but delivered with a remarkable lightness of touch. Jolivet’s complex, post-Debussian study required enormous technical control, flitting capriciously between registers and tonal colours. Roxburgh’s piece (whose apparently plain title is in fact a quotation from a Robert Browning poem) asked perhaps even more of Ter-Berg, deploying techniques such as flutter-tonguing and note-bending and exploring the flute’s extreme high register. The technical ease and exemplary, calm musicianship of both Ter-Berg and Nicholson made a walk in the park of these demanding works.

Much the same, in fact, could be said of the Muse Quintet’s performances. Gerald Barry’s Piano Quartet is a work of unholy force, arranged in abrupt blocks of intense, often folk-derived melodies played in dense polyphony. Its effect depends to some extent on its freneticism, and while the facility of the Muse Quintet (minus the violinist Ksenia Berezina) in realising this piece was startling and hugely impressive, something of its spontaneity had perhaps been lost through all that rehearsing. This endlessly surprising work is most exciting when surprising its performers too. That said, the quartet played with amazing synergy and the rhythmic flow of the performance was excellent.

The Muse Quintet’s performance of the Adès was equally meticulous. First violinist Ilya Movchan played the opening solo with great care and zealous articulation, and prepared us well for a rendition which was highly classical, and even lyrical at times. The group were, though, just as at home whether tackling the delicacy of the exposition’s second subject or the dramatic heights of the development. They captured the range of Adès’ composition very well, emphasising its odd, organic smoothness through their own precision.

The Barry and Adès together made an intriguing pairing. Both works are compelling, busy and intricate, but they adopt very different attitudes towards structure. Barry’s quartet is defiantly block-based with frequent abrupt changes of mood, whereas Adès’ sonata-form quintet unfolds gradually and gently. What it is that ‘links’ Barry to Adès remains an open-ended question.

Before the quintet, Ter-Berg and Nicholson had returned for David Matthews’ Duet Variations and Patrick Nunn’s piccolo solo Sprite. Matthews’ Variations are an attractive set which sounded very intricately composed, but retained a certain looseness. They provided Ter-Berg with another opportunity to exhibition her excellent command of tone, and Nicholson accompanied again with subtlety and humour. Sprite is an enchanting, rapid showpiece which drew a lively audience response.

All the pieces were performed with brilliant technical flair, and a real sense of ease with the complex material. This was a wonderful celebration of these emerging performers, who will all be well worth following in the coming months.