Different art forms have always had a habit of cross-fertilising. In the first half of this concert, paintings by Van Gogh and Picasso inspired two pieces of contemporary music in quite different ways.

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet) and Sakari Oramo (conductor) © Chris Christodoulou
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet) and Sakari Oramo (conductor)
© Chris Christodoulou

My first experience of HK Gruber was over 35 years ago when a performance of Frankenstein!! saw Simon Rattle leaping off the podium to join in the vocals. If anything is going to entice you into the wonders of contemporary music, it would be these sorts of antics. Gruber uses a wide variety of musical styles, so we can hear, for example, hints of tonal, atonal, serial, jazz and cabaret music in his pieces. Busking was written in 2007 for the unfeasibly versatile trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, and received its belated London première with Hardenberger in the driving seat at this Prom. Gruber's busking theme was created by taking a basic trumpet concerto format and then adding banjo and accordion, and setting this against a stylistic backdrop inspired by Picasso's painting Three Musicians.

As if to accentuate Gruber's sense of the unorthodox, the piece opens with a jaunty dance-like motif played cheekily on just the mouthpiece of the trumpet, sounding much like a kazoo, which caused giggles from the audience. Hardenberger was masterful, switching between two trumpets and flugelhorn and demonstrating great virtuosity and drive in the outer movements with a wonderful sense of melancholy in the second. Oramo and the strings of the BBCSO were excellent partners, showing careful balance between orchestra and soloists with appropriate sharpness and acidity, particularly in the caustic third movement. The playing was first-class throughout, with Hardenberger capturing the direct and angular style of the music, neatly mirroring Picasso's genre, and Mats Bergström on banjo and Claudia Buder on accordion were wonderfully engaging, dynamic and supportive as secondary soloists. This was an energetic and provocative piece, brilliantly played.

The music of Henri Dutilleux is some of the most colourful and captivating of the last century. He developed his own distinctive sound world following on from other 20th-century greats such as Debussy and Ravel as well as Berg and Bartók. Dutilleux was always open to a wide range of influences and inspirations, rejecting serialism and favouring the fluid and vivid effects created by tone colours and harmonies.

The latest outing for Dutilleux, in this his centenary year, was his evocative and colouristic expression of the earth and the skies in Timbres, espace, mouvement (tone-colours, space, movement), which opened the concert. The BBCSO under Sakari Oramo were completely at home in this music, producing great swathes of sound and contrasting them with splashes of crystalline clarity. Dutilleux used as inspiration Van Gogh's painting The Starry Night. The dichotomy between earth and skies in the painting is emphasised musically by removing violins and violas, thereby creating a void in the orchestration to represent the empty and static nature of the earth, with wind instruments and percussion swirling around above depicting the "almost cosmic whirling effect" of the celestial movements in Van Gogh's painting. The piece has two main movements, linked by a cello interlude that was written later. Oramo crafted expertly the shifting textures, folding them over each other with subtle sensuousness, and the BBCSO was in superb form creating lush sounds with fine wind solos, wonderfully involved percussion and sonorous strings.

Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet) and Claudia Buder (accordion) © Chris Christodoulou
Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet) and Claudia Buder (accordion)
© Chris Christodoulou

The problem with such a well-known piece as Beethoven's Symphony no. 5 in C minor is that you can sometimes be forgiven for forgetting that it is truly a great piece of music. Finding a different angle can sometimes be interesting, sometimes inspired, sometimes agonising, but not always necessary. Oramo avoided idiosyncrasies, and the BBCSO hit the ground running, making sure that the music did not sound as though it was taken for granted. He set an ideal pace throughout, and created just enough restraint in places to contrast with the building momentum.

The most famous motto in music, the four-note 'Fate knocking at the door' motif, was appropriately assertive, and there was quite a bold but effective announcement of the development section in the first movement. Oramo fashioned a slightly exaggerated but dramatic restatement of the motto and shaped some well-balanced call-and-response passages between different groups of instruments. There was a warm string sound in the second movement with the winds and brass satisfyingly noble, albeit with a very minor pitching issue. The horns were regal in the third movement and there was a thrilling crescendo into the majestic Finale, which thankfully demonstrated proper Beethovenian scrubbing in the strings. Oramo mastered Beethoven's meticulous dynamics, such as distinguishing properly between forte and fortissimo.

This was certainly a full on, 'no holds barred' Beethoven's Fifth, played with enthusiasm and commitment making it a sure-fire way to make sure you didn't go home disappointed.