Bertolt Brecht said that "Mixing one's wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably". In an inspired bit of programming, this Prom saw old and new works mixing very well indeed. As an added dimension, the two symphonies performed in this concert expressed new wisdom for their time but were also indebted to the old wisdom of Haydn and the classical tradition.

Thomas Adès conducts the Britten Sinfonia © BBC|Chris Christodoulou
Thomas Adès conducts the Britten Sinfonia
© BBC|Chris Christodoulou

Francisco Coll is an exciting new voice, with an adventurous compositional style and who sees things through an unusual lens. This is a productive time for Coll, with the recent UK première of Liquid Symmetries and now this London première of Four Iberian Miniatures. In these miniatures, Coll uses the essence of Spanish idioms, rather than illustrating anything in particular, with the style and characteristics of Andalusian culture demonstrated by the use of the fandango, tango and flamenco. The music is at once witty and dark, sometimes macabre. Coll expands, condenses and examines his material, breaking beneath the surface to deconstruct the more familiar sounds into their basic elements.

Augustin Hadelich © BBC|Chris Christodoulou
Augustin Hadelich
© BBC|Chris Christodoulou

Violinist Augustin Hadelich was masterly, exploiting Coll's dynamic and captivating score to the full. He was lyrical and expressive in the more poignant passages, and captured the more grotesque assertions of this most enthralling music. The Britten Sinfonia was quite superb, playing as if it had known the piece for years. Adès drew out of the orchestra all the subtle nuances required, and encouraged tremendous attack and bite in the more gritty sections.

Wearing one of his other hats, Thomas Adès has established himself as one of the most imaginative composers of his generation. Lieux retrouvés, or "places revisited", was originally a cello sonata conveying images and senses inspired by the landscapes of water, mountains, fields and the city. His arrangement for cello and orchestra received its UK première at this Prom. The cello part is phenomenally difficult, although the composer does not exploit virtuosity for virtuosity's sake. As always for Adès, it is the importance of the musical impact and imagery that is important, and he was keen to use the cello's "rich and wide-ranging" colours to show how music can be "a vehicle that can carry you from where you are to a different place".

Steven Isserlis © BBC|Chris Christodoulou
Steven Isserlis
© BBC|Chris Christodoulou

Steven Isserlis, for whom the piece was written, was magnificent. He was highly expressive and unassumingly virtuosic, and seemed to become part of the music. The Britten Sinfonia was exemplary, bringing out the different textures and sonorities created by the new orchestral arrangement, with some parts quite magical, tinkling like ice crystals, while others were jagged and violent. Certain passages had a pensive melancholy, and the third movement was quite breathtaking in its calm, transcendental beauty with the cello rising ever higher against wispy, delicate orchestration. The last movement was a veritable romp, presenting a macabre can-can with clear echoes of distorted Offenbach. It was a relentless and jarred final episode, as if the music was being dragged through broken glass.

In a change of mood, the two symphonies that opened and closed the concert were played with fizz, charm and a crisp vitality. Beethoven's mature and light-hearted Symphony no. 8 in F major is classical in temperament but highly original. When asked why there was less furore over this symphony than his Seventh, Beethoven simply said because the eighth was better. Adès took the two outer movements very fast indeed, which resulted in some lost detail here and there in the first movement, but the brisk pace worked very well in the Finale. The orchestra played with relish and enthusiasm, with plenty of vigour and bite as well as a nice gentle meandering in the second and third movements. One of Adès' skills is to bring out individual voices and lines, so it was nice to hear some phrases that can sometimes be lost in the melee. This was a raw and transparent interpretation, superbly played.

The concert closed with Prokofiev's Symphony no. 1 in D major "Classical". First performed in 1918, it was a symphony that Prokofiev wanted to write "in the classical style", emulating Haydn. As such, some have argued that it was the first true neo-classical piece, even before Stravinsky. There was a vibrancy with plenty of charm and clarity in the Britten Sinfonia's playing, with Adès controlling the changing dynamics very effectively. There were some nice lines with wonderful shaping throughout, and the jocular pomposity brought to the Gavotte was delightfully quirky. The Finale felt as though they were going to the races, with a rapid pace that was exciting if not risky, but the brilliance of the Britten Sinfonia showed that they had complete mastery of the score and of their collective communication with Adès. On this occasion, the risk paid off.