In this concept concert with an orange glow, the BBC Concert Orchestra were minus their Principal Conductor, Bramwell Tovey. In his place, at very short notice, the versatile Finnish conductor, Anna-Maria Helsing, conducted a programme in which several of the works must have been new to her, not least the opening movement of Frederick Delius’s Florida Suite (1887), “Daybreak”, that kicked off the evening. And what a beautiful piece it is with its Grieg/Wagner yet distinctly Delian evocation of sunrise, leading to the original version of his famous dance La Calinda, later was incorporated into the opera Koanga. A decent performance of it, faltering slightly in the early stage but perking up in the dance, made one wish that we heard more Delius in the concert hall.

Anna-Maria Helsing © Kasper Dalkarl
Anna-Maria Helsing
© Kasper Dalkarl

The overall theme of the concert was the colour orange. In place of Bramwell Tovey, who would have introduced the works himself, we were treated to pert interjections from the artist/presenter Lachlan Goudie. He led us very adeptly into the next piece which was the first London performance of Sunshine (2016) by Jonathan Dove. Short and sweet, it used smallish forces with delicacy and poise which, while undoubtedly sounding like John Adams, was Adams at his best and most direct.

Next up the sunset glow of Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1915) with the sparkling soloist Victor Sangiorgio. This is one of the great concertante pieces of the 20th century, with subtleties at every turn. This performance didn’t quite find the refinement needed to showcase the work, particularly in the first movement which depicts the Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra palace in Granada. The brooding nature of the music needs a steady pace but should flow seamlessly from section to section. This wasn’t quite achieved here and the final passionate outburst lacked the lushness of string tone to make its glorious point. The dance-like third movement was the most successful and with more opportunities for the soloist to shine, his contribution helped to focus the performance.

In a change of the programme Grieg’s Morning replaced Nightride and Sunrise by Sibelius and here the conductor and orchestra seemed totally at home, producing beautiful results. However, Ecstatic Orange, by Michael Torke, from 1985 was a much tougher nut to crack. Written again in a minimalist style not a million miles from John Adams, it has a grittiness and wit which are achieved by virtuoso navigating of the counter-intuitive rhythms. This was only partially successful here, with the result that the piece sounded more gritty than witty.

The final work of the evening was orchestral suite made by Prokofiev from his opera The Love for Three Oranges in 1924. Its six lively movements found the orchestra and conductor on safer ground, although the piece still demands virtuoso playing. One could have wished for some more light and shade, but the familiar March was nicely pointed and the final movement, “Flight”, lived up to its name.

***11