Prom 28 had an odd programme; a hodge-podge dominated by Rachmaninov's The Bells, preceded by two entirely unrelated modern works and with an epilogue of Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor. A concert does not necessarily require a theme or some form of structural thought in order to be a success, but a well-considered programme does lend a concert some substance, which was slightly lacking in this rather whimsical bill of fare.

Tadaaki Otaka © Masahide Sato
Tadaaki Otaka
© Masahide Sato

That said, it is always a pleasure to see an orchestra under the baton of a conductor with whom it has had a long and fruitful relationship, and the chemistry between the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Tadaaki Otaka – its former chief from 1987 - 1995 and current Conductor Laureate – clearly remains strong. Otaka is known for his association with Tōru Takemitsu, whose Twill by Twilight - in memory of Morton Feldman was the first piece of the evening, a piece composed in tribute to Takemitsu's friendship with Feldman, based on a similarity in their approach to music. It's a slow, sedate piece, deeply reflective, in which attention to the detail of the work is essential. In many respects it was a canny way to open the evening, a palate cleanser that washed away the bustle of the streets and the underground. Otaka gently swished the orchestra on through the ripples of the piece, teasing out the detail and the unexpected moments of harmony.

We moved then, somewhat randomly, onto the second piece, a world premiere by Huw Watkins entitled The Moon. It won't take three guesses to grasp the subject of the piece and the helpful programme note reminded us that the Moon predates any form of life on Earth – bad luck to any conspiracy theorists in the audience. On the whole, it was an engaging piece; Watkins has created an appealing soundscape encompassing humanity's relationship and reactions to the Moon. It captures our feelings of the satellite's essential “otherness”, our fears of it and our hopes and aspirations to know it. At its heart are ethereal woodwind textures which provide an engrossing introduction, while a reduced choir sings a quartet of poems about the Moon, from Bysshe Shelley to Whitman. A nice little tribute to the anniversary of the lunar landing.

Rachmaninov's The Bells, his tribute by way of choral symphony to the bells which he felt to be integral to the sounds of his life in Russia, was the heavy duty piece of the evening. Choral compositions tend to work well in the Royal Albert Hall, and the Philharmonia Chorus, albeit with muggy diction, gave a full-throttle performance of Poe's text. Of the three soloists, Natalya Romaniw, fresh from delighting audiences at Opera Holland Park, again showed her generous soprano voice in “Mellow Wedding Bells”, very much singing from the text with a palette flush with colour. Oleg Dolgov's tenor seemed somewhat lost in the first movement, “Silver Sleigh Bells”, without the heft to rise over the orchestra. Iurii Samoilov's glossy, expressive baritone was an ideal fit for the gloom of “Mournful Iron Bells”. Otaka gave a thoughtful and measured reading of the piece, detailed in places, but with enough pace to avoid it becoming too ponderous.

The concert wrapped up with the Borodin – a slightly odd conclusion to a concert, but an energetic way to finish – that saw the orchestra on boisterous, full-bloodied form, with a polished performance in particular from the woodwind and a fine dynamic with the Chorus who sang with flair and verve – and clearer diction.

***11