Last night the 20th Century Consort opened its second season at the Hirshhorn with a stunning program of works from the '70s. The group was in top form, performing with flair and infectious enthusiasm. The entire evening sparkled with an edge of excitement that no one else quite manages to bring to the music of this century.

If last night's program is an indicator, we are in for some glorious music from contemporary composers. Noticeable in all of the works were the ease and confidence with which the materials were handled. No one seemed to be deliberately simplifying his style or writing down to please the public, but no one seemed to feel a compulsion to be obscure, either.

Typical was Maurice Wright's "Cantata" for tenor, percussion and electronic sounds. At the sight of a lone singer and a stage full of percussion plus speakers one involuntarily shudders in anticipation of the barrage to come. No need with Wright, whose scoring was careful and delicate and whose writing reflected exceptional integration of electronic and natural sounds. It was a work of wit and imagination, given a superb performance by tenor Davis Gordon and percussionist Glenn Steele.

William Penn's "Five Glasses of Absinthe," written for the Consort, was an intensely theatrical and personal statement, brought splendidly to life. Guitarist David Starobin did well by Richard Rodney Bennett's guitar concerto, the least interesting work on the program, which also included Joan Tower's finely crafted piece, "Amazon."