This Prom opened with Bartók’s Dance Suite which, despite the indifference shown at its 1923 première, is one of his most colourful works, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of uniting the cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda into Budapest. Its folk-derived material (Arab, Hungarian and Romanian influences) gives rhythmic and melodic impetus to its six movements that also have harmonic echoes of Debussy. Thomas Søndergård and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales gave a faithful account, yet its innate vitality never quite broke the surface of a somewhat restrained performance – regardless of the refined solo contributions. If Søndergård seemed restrained in the energetic passages then he coaxed from his players a wonderfully polished response in the reflective ritornellos and serene fourth movement.

Thomas Søndergård, Tai Murray and the BBCNOW © BBC | Mark Allan
Thomas Søndergård, Tai Murray and the BBCNOW
© BBC | Mark Allan

Inspiration of a different kind fuelled the Violin Concerto by Malcolm Hayes that followed. Better known as a writer on music, he has steadily built a reputation as a composer, and his recent work from 2014 may establish itself as one of the more enduring of this year’s various proms commissions. It is a work that takes belated stimulus from the composer’s seven-year residence in the Outer Hebrides during the 1970s, (before pursuing a career as a music critic). While casting aside the conventional combative relationship between orchestra and soloist, it presents an intriguing single-movement soundscape (evoking the endless skies of Harris) with traces of more traditional concerto models – Beethoven, Sibelius and Vaughan Williams readily spring to mind. Its distinctive scoring – a late Classical-sized orchestra with oboe d’amore and a mixed percussion section featuring crotales, three triangles and piano, is used sparingly and, aside from one brief climax, provides a transparent harmonic backdrop and plenty of colour. Hayes refers to its high lying and demanding solo violin writing as a “life-form in flight, in the presence of surrounding natural forces that may or may not be threatening to overwhelm it”.

Playing from an iPad, soloist Tai Murray (a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist) gave a persuasive rendition, bringing to its near-ceaseless flow a real sense of commitment, poise and flawless intonation. She was well served by the orchestra from which various cameo appearances made their mark – chief amongst these was an eloquent oboe d’amore (Sarah-Jayne Porsmoguer) in the work’s central lullaby. This was an assured first performance that appeared to exert its own hypnotic spell on an attentive audience. Certainly, this new concerto commands respect.

It was with respect, rather than unreserved favour, that Dvořák’s Symphony no. 7 in D minor was received by The Times critic following its première in London in April 1885. Conducted by the composer in “an excellent rendering” the critic conceded the new symphony relieved the “monotony of the Philharmonic season”. This account, on Thursday, was admirable in many ways – not least in the momentum achieved in the opening Allegro maestoso and the drama initiating the reprise. Variety of pace and dynamic contributed much to a nuanced slow movement; its ebb and flow were nicely caught. Dvořák’s melodic charm found outlet in a well-judged Scherzo and in the Finale, Søndergård sustained a tight control over its stormy narrative through to its defiantly major key close.