The eclectic mix of pieces that made up the programme for Prom 23 began with octogenarian Scottish composer John McLeod's The Sun Dances. Composed in 2001, this was its London première. The piece is based on a Mull folk tale that a certain Barbara Macphie, on climbing Ben More (Mull's highest point, unhelpfully cropped out of the beautiful Cadell painting in the accompanying programme notes) one Easter Sunday, saw the sun dance in joy at the risen Christ. This was not an overtly joyous piece, though. There were moments, of course, but the impressionism was of a more raw kind than might be heard in the work of Ravel or Debussy: the opening stabbing chords and the metallic shimmering of the strings seemed to reflect the harsh reality of the strong sun hitting the jagged rocks of this Munro, and the swift mood changes thereafter meant that joy was not the prevailing emotion in the piece. Was this a good thing? I think so. Even if the changes of tempo and timbre were somewhat sudden, McLeod's use of orchestral colour made for a distinctly evocative style that, along with some excellent playing by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Donald Runnicles, effectively captured the folkloric story behind the music. The incorporation of the Scottish psalm tune Martyrs (which begins, appropriately, “O send thy light forth and thy truth”) was an inspired way of stating the religious connection in the tale.

Donald Runnicles © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Donald Runnicles
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

After McLeod came Beethoven, a dramatic shift from the near-present day to the beginning of the 19th century. Beethoven's Fourth Symphony is a work that tends to be forgotten between his epic Third and famous Fifth Symphonies. Unlike those, the Fourth has a relentlessly upbeat mood that never seems to leave, even in the slower sections. It lacks the subtleties and maturity of the two symphonies on either side, but this is really its joy. The brooding Adagio opening statement soon gives way to a fizzing Allegro vivace, which bounced along under Runnicles' choice of brisk tempo and the BBCSSO's close attention to articulation and dynamic. For me, the second Adagio movement didn't slow down quite enough: its tender, languid melody was not quite as relaxed as it could have been. The third movement, and particularly the Trio, was lovely – humorous, even – as the melody passed playfully and smoothly between the strings and the woodwind. An ebullient final Allegro ma non troppo was taken too fast and at the expense of making the tune's accompaniments, which themselves hold interest in their own right, fade into oblivion. This was a pity, as the BBCSSO's ensemble was steadily maintained throughout, the players unperturbed by the fast tempi.

Mozart's Requiem, written on the composer's deathbed and incomplete at the time of his passing, was the crowning glory of this concert. Four stellar soloists and the 130+ singers of the National Youth Choir of Scotland combined with the BBCSO to create a breathtaking sound for this particular version, based on the Süssmayr completions and early 1990s revisions by Robert Levin. It is rare to hear choir balancing orchestra balancing soloists, but here we had it all. The fresh sound of the NYCoS was bright and extremely well articulated, no doubt thanks to its excellent choirmaster, Christopher Bell; the young singers displayed a mature sense of musicianship and proved themselves adaptable to the moods of each movement. They handled the technical challenges of the Kyrie very well indeed, and brought much urgency to the Dies irae whilst bringing a sense of reverence to the Lacrimosa and elongated Amen that followed.

Carolyn Sampson, Christine Rice, Donald Runnicles, Jeremy Ovenden, Neal Davies, the NYCS & BBCSSO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Carolyn Sampson, Christine Rice, Donald Runnicles, Jeremy Ovenden, Neal Davies, the NYCS & BBCSSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Meanwhile, some outstandingly elegant singing emerged from the soloists, who were very evenly matched in the quartet sections throughout. Soprano Carolyn Sampson's radiant, angelic voice carried in the Introitus and Benedictus in particular, whilst Christine Rice's mezzo was deliciously warm and fruity. Meanwhile, the richly-voiced Neal Davies carried off the beginning of Tuba mirum with aplomb; Jeremy Ovenden took over smoothly and without strain at mors stupebit. The Requiem was an incomparable delight to listen to; if you miss the BBC4 broadcast on 7th August, a listen on iPlayer is strongly recommended.

McLeod, Beethoven, Mozart. Folklore, classical symphony, religion(ish). Scottish, German, Austrian. Try as I might, and as obvious as it was that this was a Prom with a strong Scottish representation, I struggled to find a connecting thread between the three pieces that comprised this programme; I am still not convinced there was one. The trio of works are enjoyable pieces in their own right, but the changes in mood left me somewhat unsettled after an evening of excellent musicianship.