New music sounds all the newer when played by new performers, and so the Royal College of Music’s New Perspectives concert was refreshing to say the least, with a programme played by the College’s own ensemble featuring two world premières and two more pretty recent works. This attractively organised recital framed its two brand new works within pieces by those twin leading lights of British music Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies.

Birtwistle’s Cortege is an oddly beautiful piece from 2007, in which most of the 14-strong ensemble take it in turns to progress to the centre, play a brief passage in duet with another instrumentalist, and sit back down again on the opposite side of the stage. Typically for Birtwistle, it’s a meticulously close study of different instrumental personalities, presented in a strange, solemn ritual. It’s a great piece to give a large number of players a moment in the spotlight, and on this occasion those who stood out especially were violist Christoven Keat, violinist Brigid Coleridge, and flautist Luce Zurita, who turns into a master of ceremonies of sorts at the end, summoning each player in turn to stand.

The first half’s new piece was by RCM composition teacher Jonathan Cole, and the contrast to Birtwistle’s rather confrontational style couldn’t have been greater. Sat on a comfy chair, conductor Timothy Lines counted the beats out with his fingers, instead of beating time, presumably because of the extreme slow tempo, and the piece emerged gradually out of muffled shuddering and soft, sweeping strokes of bows. Breathy winds contributed a tight edge to the sound. The piece, entitled Veiled Litanies, eventually becomes more than a whisper, gaining a piercing quality, and it ends in a surprisingly dramatic manner. It sounded logistically difficult, with entire worlds of sound emerging between each beat, but the young ensemble delivered an excellently thoughtful performance.

More contrast was to come, with a large symphony orchestra replacing the chamber ensemble after the interval, for emerging composer William Dougherty’s short piece Acrid Dance. It was apparent from the off that Dougherty, currently a Master’s student at the Royal College, was relishing the resources at his disposal, and his use of the orchestra throughout the piece’s six pounding minutes was excited and imaginative. Stylistically, the piece could have gone further in distancing itself from the hugely vogueish work of Thomas Adès – specifically, the “Ecstasio” movement of his symphony Asyla – but Dougherty is not alone in this, by any means. Márcio da Silva conducted impressively.

Peter Maxwell Davies’ Trumpet Concerto (1988), conducted again by Lines and featuring Ryan Linham as soloist, was the final item played, and made for a fittingly virtuosic showpiece. The piece is Max at his most maximalist, with huge, thick swathes of sound beneath the melodic solo line; it’s full of deftly drawn orchestral textures and subtle tonal shades, although somehow it all coalesces into a rather uniform experience. Dazzling but strangely monochrome, the piece was kept alive for me primarily by the controlled, wonderfully phrased playing of Linham, who was always well attuned to the orchestra behind him. His high register was particularly impressive, with amazingly pure tone despite the technical demands. For all the excellence in performance, though, the rather more intimate sounds of the first half left more of an impression.

***11