If, like me, you have been a fan of the TV comedy The League of Gentlemen, then you will already be familiar with Joby Talbot’s music. But to talk only about his film and TV scores would not be doing him justice, especially with so much of his music being written for the stage and concert hall using a wide variety of styles and formats. His music talks of journeys and fantasies, but also explores the abstract, with influences ranging from the religious pilgrimage of his choral piece Path of Miracles through to the magical ballet score for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the orchestral explorations in Tide Harmonic, which describes the many properties of water.

Miloš Karadaglić plays Joby Talbot's <i>Ink Dark Moon</i> © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Miloš Karadaglić plays Joby Talbot's Ink Dark Moon
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

But the overriding sense in Talbot’s music, as in his latest composition, is one of constantly shifting shapes and atmospheric changes of mood and sound, mixing the magical with the dangerously dark and with sparing hints of funk, folk and pop occasionally creeping in. His Guitar Concerto, entitled Ink Dark Moon, received its world première at this Prom, with no better advocate and exponent of the instrument than the highly talented and versatile Miloš Karadaglić to play alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Vedernikov. Inspired partly by the nocturnal atmosphere of an American landscape and taking its title from a collection of Japanese love poetry, Talbot cast the soloist as the leader of the proceedings, with the orchestra acting as a “sounding board”, echoing the guitar’s musings. 

The scene was set from the very opening bars, with the melismatic guitar meandering over fluid orchestral pulses before striking out in different directions. Karadaglić provided a supremely tailored performance, exploring the full range of sounds and techniques and capitalising on Talbot’s penchant for creating mystery and intoxicating moods, including a distinctively Spanish feel in parts. Vedernikov captured the orchestra’s supporting (but not secondary) role admirably to create a constantly changing web of textures, and as Karadaglić journeyed through the contemplative Largo flessibile second movement, with all his mastery of subtle picks and ghostly harmonics coming to the fore, to the restless agitation and rhythmic drive of the third movement, this really brought Talbot’s evocative music to life. 

Alexander Vedernikov conducts the BBC SO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Alexander Vedernikov conducts the BBC SO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

This concert was dedicated to the memory of Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, a former Chief Conductor of the BBCSO who died recently, and Vedernikov topped and tailed Talbot’s work with pieces from two Russian masters. As if to predict the heatwaves spreading across Europe this summer, the programme opened with Glinka’s Spanish Overture no. 2, “Recollection of a Summer Night in Madrid”, complete with obligatory castanets and a generous sprinkling of Spanish dance. Verdinikov took a sprightly but nevertheless leisurely stroll through Glinka’s fascination with Spain in what was, remarkably, its first Proms performance. He kept things light and delicately flavoured, so as to contrast with the lilt of the Spanish sways and the swirling flourishes, with a crisp and articulate BBCSO providing a comforting luminosity and warmth.

After the interval, there was a touch of Christmas to add some spice to the hazy summer heat. A charming performance the complete Act 1 of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker made a welcome change to hearing a collection of greatest hits. After all, the ballet does have a storyline. However, the concept did paradoxically lack a little credibility, compared with other ballet scores performed in the concert hall, and the absence of dance on this occasion had a more noticeable effect. Nevertheless, the music was wonderfully played by the lush and crystalline BBCSO, with Vedernikov expertly shaping the various episodes with a relaxed air of authority. Though not an extraordinary performance, there was much to enjoy, not least Vedernikov’s natural feel for the waltz, some particularly fine playing in the Dancing Scene and A Pine Forest in Winter, and a number of wonderful woodwind solos. But extra plaudits must go to the bright and warm sound of the Finchley Children’s Music Group, who combined with the lovely twinkling sound of the orchestra to close the piece with a magical Waltz of the Snowflakes

***11