Shoreditch Church, London
The first concert of this year's Spitalfields Music Winter festival, given by the London Contemporary Orchestra under conductor Hugh Brunt, included a new commission from the 30-year-old Scottish composer Martin Suckling. His violin concerto De Sol y Grana takes its title from a line by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado that translates, roughly, as "of sun(light) and scarlet". Scored for soloist and an ensemble of 14 players, it leaves an impression of vibrant colours and wide-ranging thematic material brought together with considerable technical skill.
The solo part, confidently addressed by the Polish violinist Agata Szymczewska, keeps the player busy, often floating high over the forces beneath, or darting, bird-like, around the top of the texture. Suckling compares the shape of the piece to a series of bubbles in which the solo line and ensemble form one kind of relationship before the moment dissolves and shifts into something new. The score's sheeny surface glistened with ideas attractively set in their overall context, yet all making their mark on their own.
Earlier, Brunt had directed a crisp account of Canadian composer Claude Vivier's 1977 Pulau Dewata, inspired by a visit to Bali; its title is a local name for the island, which translates as Isle of the Gods. Its alternately florid and simple ideas rang vividly around the church, the generous acoustic of which gave warmth to the players' keen attack.
The final and largest piece was Vortex Temporum, a late work by Gérard Grisey. Parts of it were solidly impressive, such as the striking arpeggio-based figure on which the work is founded, and a vast, percussive piano solo, boldly realised here by Antoine Françoise. But it's a piece with a tendency to spill out beyond its natural confines, and even Brunt's determination failed to keep it entirely within bounds.
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