Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra were on top form with a Proms programme of English music across the generations. Their virtuosity was put to the test by the UK premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s brilliant Time Flies, composed in 2019 to a joint commission from the BBC, Hamburg's NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Each of three commissioning cities get’s their own movement and the work is symphonic in scale.

Sakari Oramo, Mark-Anthony Turnage and the BBCSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Turnage has the ability to present material that is both approachable and challenging. Time Flies is a work full of immediately arresting material which he develops and extends in fascinating and entertaining ways. In the first movement, London Time, there was almost an echo of the bustle and edginess of the first movement of Vaughan Williams A London Symphony, with themes coming thick fast. The structure is held together by a catchy recurring theme, which is varied rhythmically to delightful effect. The central movement, Hamburg Time, is slow in tempo and is dominated by monumental fanfares that could almost have been written by Janáček or Copland. Tokyo Time is fast and dynamic, with jazz influenced themes that dance and jive. Oramo and the BBCSO were completely under the skin of Turnage's work, which should surely find a place in the repertory by merit of its infectious sense of life enhancing joy.

Sakari Oramo, Constantin Hartwig and the BBCSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

A rare outing for the Tuba Concerto in F minor that Vaughan Williams composed in 1954 proved to be a delightful experience in every way. Perhaps the most perfectly formed of the composer’s concertos, the music is unfailingly inventive and fresh, with a toughness at its core that never in any way patronises the soloist. Its three movements are concise and full of character, the outer two being more troubled and the central slow movement revealing perhaps the most beautiful tune the composer wrote in the last decade of his life. Young German soloist Constantin Hartwig had the necessary technique at his fingertips and was able to concentrate on being expressive, which he managed in spades. A rapturous response from the audience prompted an encore of Paul McCartney's Blackbird that was equally well received. 

Elgar's Symphony no. 1 in A flat major was hailed at its premiere as the most significant work in the form by a British composer up to that point. The 50-year-old composer put everything he had learnt into the ambitious work. However, despite his own voice shining through, the influences of Wagner, Brahms and Franck still weigh heavily. The cyclic form of Franck's D minor symphony is adopted enthusiastically, but not as successfully in Elgar's hands, with the repetition of the motto themes impeding the dramatic flow at times. 

Sakari Oramo conducts the BBCSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Oramo was affectionate in his interpretation, not labouring any of the repetitions by keeping the tempo moving and recognising the questioning nature of the much of the music. In the more troubled moments he was particularly pungent, most noticeably in the long development section at the centre of the first movement, which is one of the composer's most striking orchestral passages. The Adagio was notable for the warm tone of the BBCSO strings, which also produced a wonderfully translucent pianissimo when required. Oramo found more doubt in the music than many conductors in the last movement which, even in its final flourish, has a moment of minor key angst.