On paper, Ian Pace is as devoted a champion of contemporary music as anyone could wish for. Nevertheless, his commitment to living composers only becomes fully evident in concert.

It was difficult not to leave St Saviourgate on Saturday with the impression that the pianist would literally bend over backwards were the command printed in the score.

Fortunately for Pace, a brief outburst of song was the furthest he was required to stray from standard keyboard performance in this notably strong programme of sonatas and studies.

Michael Tippett’s insistent Second Sonata blew away aural cobwebs, creating space without losing focus. Studies, by Ralph Bateman, entranced, a squeaky piano stool failing to detract from their mesmeric qualities.

Michael Parkin’s Piano Sonata took no prisoners, though its repetitive features edged occasionally towards tail-chasing rather than the desired “spiralling” effect. Its Stravinsky-clad summit impressed regardless.

Edward Caine whisked his Debussy influences in a volatile direction with wild flowers. Its vivid note clusters allowed Pace to exhibit colour and subtlety in a formidably explosive acoustic.

The singing in Steve Crowther’s Piano Sonata No. 2 added little to an otherwise deeply personal and communicative piece; a lurching opening was stripped away to reveal a central episode of afflicted soul-searching before a frenzied boogie brought about a whirlwind conclusion.

It was an eloquent cue for John Adams’ Phrygian Gates. The American minimalist’s remarkable economy still astonishes, 36 years after its première. Urging every note onwards with locomotive resilience, Pace achieved widescreen gestures without sacrificing intimacy.

Review by Richard Powell