This final concert of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Total Immersion day dedicated to György Ligeti, proved to be something a revelation, both in terms of the variety of the music and the quality of the performances. The large enthusiastic audience undermined the theory that modern music is a commercial kiss of death.

Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO © BBC | Mark Allan
Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO
© BBC | Mark Allan

The concert opened with Atmosphères from 1961, a landmark piece both for the composer and for Western music in general. This was the work that crystallised the composer's move from his early post-Bartók idiom to the new textural concerns that dominated his work in the 1960s and 70s. Atmosphères is a work of purity and quiet purpose, ravishing in it’s sonic impact, impressionistic in its effect, but so delicate it’s as if it is a ghost of an impression. The seamless perfection of the piece was ideally captured here by Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO and even a touch of Sibelian depth timbre and mystery could perhaps be detected.

Ligeti's Violin Concerto from 1993 was played with razor sharp intensity by Augustin Hadelich. Written in the composer's later style, which incorporates melodic elements from his folk-inspired early music. It is also characterised by an increase in rhythmic and harmonic intricacy, as well as a quirky humour and gentle humanity. The beautiful second movement Aria, Hoquetus, Choral is the heart of the piece, finds a beautiful melody given a number of guises, some involving complex tunings and unusual instrumentation, including the addition of three ocarinas. Haderlich was impressive throughout with the BBCSO heroically overcoming the fiendish technical challenges. The only jarring moment was the cadenza written here by Thomas Adès. Brilliantly played, here it seemed out of place here with its more obvious virtuosity.

Augustin Hadelich, Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO © BBC | Mark Allan
Augustin Hadelich, Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO
© BBC | Mark Allan

Clocks and Clouds from 1972 was the least immediately effective of the works presented. With the addition of the woman’s voices of BBC Singers, the swirling clusters of sound seemed more diffuse than in Atmosphères.

After the interval the Piano Concerto of 1988 blew away all the cobwebs ,with its brilliantly energetic, gleaming sound world. Played here with effortless virtuosity by Nicolas Hodges and the BBCSO, it left a very positive impression. The strangest of the five movements is the fourth, with its collision of lines that gives the unerring effect of an increase in tempo, it also had unexpected echoes of Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. The Presto finale effectively alternates playfulness with the sinister.

Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO © BBC | Mark Allan
Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO
© BBC | Mark Allan

San Francisco Polyphony was the composer's final purely orchestral work and the last work in textural middle period style. Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, it was first performed by them in 1974. It takes Ligeti's abstract sound world to another level of intricacy and sophistication. Here the BBCSO and Oramo surpassed themselves in the production of a richness of sound and alertness to the precise transparency of the orchestration. With its bracing conclusion delivered with aplomb, it was a fitting end to a thoroughly stimulating and entertaining concert.

*****