mon 15/07/2024

NMC Recordings at 35, Dutch Church, London review - a fitting celebration | reviews, news & interviews

NMC Recordings at 35, Dutch Church, London review - a fitting celebration

NMC Recordings at 35, Dutch Church, London review - a fitting celebration

British new music label marks its anniversary with a brilliant array of voices and styles

Cellist Zoë Martlew plays her own G-ludeJames Berryman/Spitalfields Music

NMC Recordings has spent 35 years promoting contemporary music by British composers, and this commitment to both emerging and established voices was represented at this birthday concert in London last night, part of the Spitalfields Festival. From their emergence in 1989 in a different musical and technological world (“NMC” standing for “New Music Cassettes”) my early days of CD buying were guided by NMC’s developing catalogue and they are still a go-to for finding interesting new things.

The audience at the Dutch Church in the City of London was garlanded with composer royalty of all generations who have been represented on the label over the years, giving the whole event a family party vibe.

The concert crammed in 17 composers and four performing outfits, between them representing a rainbow spectrum of styles. It is impossible to mention them all, but there wasn’t really a dud among them, and the quality of the performances – of often challenging repertoire – was first-rate. The performers ranged from the well-known – Roderick Williams with pianist Andrew West offering a smorgasbord of vocal works – to the up-and-coming: the excellent National Youth Choir Fellowship Ensemble and the new-to-me trombone quartet Slide Action.

NMC’s collaboration with the National Youth Choir (pictured below by James Berryman) over recent years has seen releases devoted to new composers, sung by young singers. Here Ben Nobuto’s mercurial Sol, recorded but never performed live before, explored a full range of buzzing lips, elaborate hocketing, overtones and whistling, and even spoken arguments among the choir. It was led by bass Freddie Crowley, giving a high-wire act conducting as well as singing, and it entertained thoroughly. Millicent B James’s Finding Your Home had a rich, “mmm, jazz” harmony that evolved into a high-spirited swing section, replete with finger clicks, that was a million miles away from Roxanna Panufnik’s knotty counterpoint.National Youth Choir Fellowship EnsembleCellist Zoë Martlew, who was also our high-energy host throughout the evening, played a piece from the forthcoming album showcasing her both as performer and composer. G-lude is a response to Bach (although Bach was only very obliquely present) and involved Martlew drawing from her cello a range of industrial sounds – snap pizzicatos, scratch tones, harmonics and glissandos – the music as sparkly and impossible to ignore as her glittery top.Roderick Williams and Andrew WestThe highlights of Roderick Williams’ (pictured above) set of 11 songs were perhaps those by Colin Matthews (heroic founder and still leading light of NMC) and Brian Elias, whose “Meet me in the green glen” was sung solo and utterly captivatingly. I liked Judith Weir’s statuesque “Written on terrestrial things” and Hugh Wood’s dreamy evocation of a Greek island. Williams sang with complete authority and intuitive characterisation, Andrew West always light-footed in accompaniment. I loved Richard Rodney Bennett’s take on “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” as a cabaret song, which was completely winning and sung with a delightful knowingness.British trombone quartet Slide ActionFinally the extraordinary Slide Action (pictured above), whose debut disc is being released by NMC in the autumn, gave us 20 minutes of trombone music, accompanied by a range of mutes and toys. Sasha Scott’s hyperactive Hypernova, commissioned by NMC for this event, was the perfect opener, bright-toned, short and to the point. Ryan Latimer’s C. Exigua was a vehicle for the group’s virtuosity, an intricate, angry tango, which they played as if it was nothing. Matthew Locke’s Flatt Consort, arranged by bass trombonist Josh Cirtina and featuring him as soloist, was beguiling, the players recreating the viol sound by playing into cake-tins mounted as mutes. And lastly, Alex Paxton’s madcap ESTAMPIE, battered us around the head with its restless energy and disregard for compositional politeness. With players playing kazoos and singing through their instruments, and the composer referencing a range of sounds and styles (was that the theme from Roobard and Custard that kept coming back?), Paxton crammed an hour’s worth of music into 10 minutes. It’s exhilarating, exhausting but utterly committed: it is music that never asks “is this allowed?” it just does it anyway, and kicks the cat on the way out.

NMC deserves accolades for all it has done and all it continues to do, and this concert, sandwiching the older generation of voices between two bursts of young composers, was the perfect summary of its mission.


Martlew drew from her cello a range of industrial sounds, the music as sparkly and impossible to ignore as her glittery top


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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