York Late Music, Naidirem/Bingham String Quartet, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York

MINIMALISM in music, as in art, has been reducing music to its essentials over the past 50 years.

Its regular shapes fall easily on the ear. So it represents an antidote to the complexity of modernism.

These two June 1 concerts under Late Music’s banner set out to give a quick, if challenging, survey of the minimalist scene, as centred around Steve Reich in the United States and Brian Eno in this country.

Naidirem is based on the distinguished combination of Lesley Schatzberger’s clarinet and Shelagh Sutherland’s piano, here with the addition of Alan George’s equally renowned viola.

This combo is tailor-made for Mozart’s Kegelstatt (skittle alley) trio, which provided a glittering centrepiece at lunchtime; living composers have found it congenial too.

Steve Crowther’s new Trio boasts a tightly-coiled melody, built around a single note – cf. Purcell – and a strong rhythmic foundation, heard mainly in the piano. Its vitality and beautiful balance, even as it hurtled over four sections, were magnetic.

Near the other extreme was William Sweeney’s Trio (1982), where viola drones evoke bagpipes, allied to scotch snaps. Brief contemplation at its core turned to jagged syncopation before it recalled its opening: outdoor music that works indoors too.

The Binghams are old hands at contemporary repertoire. Their evening programme centred on Reich’s seminal Different Trains (1988), which was inspired by childhood travels between New York and Los Angeles.

Its voices on tape – his governess, a Pullman porter and Holocaust survivors – inspired its melodies, with train rattles and whistles adding atmosphere. Hectic, driven, it is the essence of minimalism. In the expert hands of the Bingham quartet, its 27 minutes seemed not a moment too long.

In contrast, Eno’s Music for Airports (Part I), originally for saxophones, offered different layouts of a single chord, very slow, very soft. It felt interminable. But that’s the way airports are, I suppose. Coming right after Rowan Alfred’s elegiac Crash, in the same key but inspired by Pachelbel, did not help.

A haunting arrangement by Bingham of Satie’s First Gnossienne for piano and David Lancaster’s brief new Vestigium, romantic snatches of the song Gently, opened the evening.

Five extracts from Michael Nyman film scores, cleverly arranged into a suite by Phil Toms, made a fun finale, intriguingly layered and unfailingly zesty.

Martin Dreyer