Contemporary music ensembles can be rather nebulous entities, their repertoire often necessitating complete line-up changes between pieces and the "whole" of the ensemble rarely being needed at the same time. The aim should be a sort of family resemblance between pieces and performance styles, rather than the organicism often desired in more traditional recitals – but contemporary recitals can still be exciting and coherent wholes, as Tuesday night's debut from ExplorEnsemble proved.

ExplorEnsemble is based at London's Royal College of Music and involves a number of young performers. This recital, in the RCM's intimate though not fully soundproofed Inner Parry Room, introduced its members to a range of contemporary repertoire, through a selection of abstract solo pieces and works for small ensemble. A number of the new pieces played suggested an exploratory, neo-modernist aesthetic which suited the group's name well.

What was most enjoyable about the recital was the real sense of engagement which the performers brought to their abstruse though fascinating repertoire. While Alice Purton did look a little reluctant during Helmut Lachenmann's Pression, in which the performer has to torture her cello slightly, pulling the bow up the strings and seeming to chisel away at it from under the bridge, she still played with confidence and control, as if the piece were perfectly normal. Harpist Martino Panizza's dexterous rendition of Bruno Mantovani's Tocar was another standout performance, which brought nuance to this flashy impressionistic study.

Panizza and Purton also combined forces for Charlie Sdraulig's remarkable piece hush. In this piece the harp was laid flat on the floor and Panizza spent much of the time tracing the gaps between strings with a stick, with an occasional pointillistic accompaniment to this from Purton. This was an oddly enthralling performance of a fascinating idea, from a composer who has evidently taken Lachenmann's instrumental experiments quite seriously.

Other highlights included Isa Khan's delicate percussion piece þogn, performed softly by Pete Handley, and ensemble Artistic Director Arne Gieshoff's solo flute work Shrine – Invocation to Ate, whose complex key-tappings and multiphonics were handled expertly by flautist Taylor Maclennan. My favourite new work, though, as well as the best group performance, was the concluding one: Jonathan Cole's nadanu. For violin, cello, bass clarinet and piano, Cole's piece brought a fresh, experimental approach to sound together with a clear sense of structure. Slow slides from the strings were coupled with single, piercing piano notes and the clarinet playing directly into the body of the piano, and this tranquil sonic landscape was given a graceful rendition.

It was a relief to end with an ensemble piece, as the programme toyed with the fragmentary at times – but this final performance was proof that ExplorEnsemble does have a coherent musical aesthetic, and is aiming for a particular musical sound. The constant tinkling of practising musicians coming from nearby rooms was a (more or less) welcome reminder that performances don't just appear out of nowhere, but are always the products of diligent preparation and exploration.

ExplorEnsemble, at RCM, Inner Parry RoomPaul Kilbey reviews ExplorEnsemble's debut recital at the Royal College of Music, London.3