Etica ensemble is showing the tenacity required to survive beyond the ‘honeymoon’ period. In the three years since forming the group has pared back to a more flexible sextet and are currently ensemble–in-residence at the WA Academy of Performing Arts. Their second concert for the year featured American music inspired by the New York Downtown minimalist scene.

David Lang’s Cheating, lying, stealing is one of the better known examples of post-minimalism. The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer used a riff of short percussive notes to drive the piece but lack of precision in the two brake drum parts and a slow tempo choice by conductor Jon Tooby meant the offbeat swagger became a stagger. It was left to Paul Tanner (marimba) and Adam Pinto (piano) to propel the work to its conclusion.

Tanner and Pinto were again a force to be reckoned with in Damaged Goods by Roshanne Etezady, enabling the contrast in textures which was at the core of the work. Heavy piano chords played against light wind solos, sustained notes were the backdrop for a meandering marimba solo, and a repeated pitch was hammered out over a fast walking bass line.
Carlo Boccadoro’s Zingiber began with cow bells and built like a fugue as bass clarinet, cello, violin and piccolo gradually added their lines. Tambourin and a shrill whistle joined the fray and a well-rehearsed cacophony unfolded as the players intently maintained independent streams of notes.

Jennifer Higdon is one of America’s most-performed composers and her work Zaka produced the most interesting ideas of the night. The jolting opening piano chords referenced drum and bass while flute and clarinet zoomed above. Hand cupping on the joints of the clarinet and pencil tapping on strings gave lightness to the texture. An inner section of eerie piano chords, gently melodious string solos and bowed crotales slowed the momentum before a sprint to the finish.

Despite the program of audience-friendly music this concert didn’t have the gutsy impact it could have. Etica’s aim is to provide world-class new music but some more spit and polish was needed on this occasion.

This review copyright the West Australian Newspaper 2013.