The Prom on August 26 was presented by The BBC Scottish Symphony conducted by Ilan Volkov. It included, along with Ah! Perfido (sung by Lucy Crowe) and the second Symphony of Beethoven, the first performance of Minds in Flux by George Lewis. This involved computer software design and realization by Damon Holzborn and Sound Intermedia. Like the piece by Shiva Feshareki a week earlier, Minds in Flux was written a designed to make use of the special acoustical properties of the Albert Hall, and it did that handsomely. The sounds of the work were compelling and alluring and engaging and listening to it was a pleasure. The shape and organization of it was for this listener a little more difficult to follow and much less satisfying, making it as a statement and a coherent whole a lot less convincing that one would hope for it to be, however continually enthralling and handsome the sound of it was. It was difficult to stay with it for its entire half hour length.
The next night’s Prom was presented by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Oramo, included Where Icebergs Dance Away by Charlotte Bray. It is a short (4 minute long) highly icily evocatively impressionistic work, extremely skillfully orchestrated, that did absolutely everything one would expect from a piece with that title, and absolutely nothing that one would not expect. It opened the second half of the concert, which had begun with a (similarly short, and effective, work by John Foulds, Le cabaret (Overture to a French Comedy), preceding a performance of the Viola Concerto of William Walton, with Timothy Rideout as the highly impressive soloist (who also did a barn burning performance of the 4th movement of the Hindemith Sonata for Solo Viola, Op, 25, no. 1 as an encore). The Bray was followed by a performance of Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No. 5. The symphony is a very interesting work. It’s language is that of sixties movie music, as one might expect from the composer of the music for The Bridge On the River Kwai, and its orchestration always sounds great and is always highly skillful, as one would expect from a successful composer of music for the movies. But it is always serious and engaging. It’s tightly constructed, built like a steel trap in fact, and full of interest and surprises, most especially, possibly, the devastating ending of the whole piece.
The Prom on August 30 was present by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir George Benjamin. It opened with The Way to Castle Yonder (1988-90) by Oliver Knussen, which is a compilation of the three orchestral interludes from his second operatic collaboration with Maurice Sendak , Higglety Piggety Pop!. As Virgil Thomson said, it was the classic hor d’oeuvres: nobody’s appetite was ruined by it and nobody missed much by missing it. It was followed by orchestrations by Benjamin of three instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell, billed as Three Consorts. Benjamin’s program note said that the pieces are expressions of his intense attachment to the works; the orchestrations don’t add to or benefit the Purcell pieces all that much. They pale besides similar orchestrations of older music by Stravinsky or Davies.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard joined Benjamin and the orchestra for a really wonderful performance of the Ravel G major Piano Concerto which had a combination of intense concentration, tenderness, and carefree jazziness that was perfect for that piece. As an encore, Aimard did a dazzling performance of Benjamin’s Relativity Rag. The concert concluded with Benjamin’s Concerto for Orchestra. Benjamin had a close relationship with Oliver Knussen, and the work is a memorial for him. It is intense and gripping piece. Beginning with long lines that eventually are engulfed in an agitated texture of repeating twitching rhythms and swirling lines, the music moves to a still quiet center and then progresses through a more fragmentary and shimmering fabric, including a striking duet involving the two violin sections, to a quiet resolution. The music throughout and for all the instruments is extremely virtuosic, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra not only negotiated the difficulties with aplomb, but played with a fierce commitment.
All three of these concert can be heard online: at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000z0x0 for the Lewis and Beethoven, at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000z1lq for the BBC Symphony, and at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000z666 for the Benjamin and Mahler Chamber Orchestra concert.