Ars Nova, City Halls, Glasgow

Kate Molleson, The Herald Scotland
Tuesday, 27. March

Neatly rounding off the weekend of Extreme Minimalism, Ars Nova and their director Paul Hillier paired one of minimalism's earliest calling cards – Terry Riley's In C – with new work by the movement's notable British successor Steve Martland.

Sea Songs is a setting of four English shanties, written for Ars Nova and given its UK premiere here. Introducing from the stage Martland confided that "it's a terrible title, Sea Songs: so unconfrontational". I'd have guessed that was the point; the aesthetic draws you in with familiar riffs and bright harmonies that make the underlying confrontations – individual versus group; men vs women; high vs low; fragment vs whole – doubly effective. The vocal writing is brilliantly listenable but darts about like a ping-pong ball. The final song hangs a beautiful recitative on workers' justice over hummed continuo, warbley as a Hammond organ. Martland studied with Louis Andriessen, whose Un beau baiser – sweet French romanticism more than pounding heavy-minimalism– was also on the programme. The choir divvied Steve Reich's Clapping Music into cheerful scales and diatonic patterns, while Reich's Know What is Above You weaves Talmudic texts into yearning intervals. As proved in Friday's performance of Allegri's Miserere, Ars Nova have the knack of unsanctimonious purity down pat.

Finally Riley's In C was the mesmerising and uplifting experience it was designed to be. Premiered in 1964 with Reich at the piano, Riley didn't fix instrumentation and Ars Nova made it sound utterly natural for voices. Which can't be an easy feat.