This was one of those concert programmes that you will only find at the Proms – a richly varied group of works none of which are crowd-pullers. The lucky audience was treated to a stimulating evening full of novelty and musicality performed with aplomb by Simone Young and the BBCSO. Kicking off with a new work by a composer primarily known as an eminent critic and writer about music, Bayan Northcott, this Concerto for Orchestra is his first orchestral composition.

Simone Young and the BBCSO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Simone Young and the BBCSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

In three concise movements, it seemed inconceivable that this was a work by a novice orchestral composer, but by someone who really knew what he wanted to achieve and had worked hard to achieve it. Northcott’s knowledge and study of other composer’s music is considerable. This pithy work communicates a determination and strength without pretension. A lively Allegro con brio has an echo of late Tippett and was notable for some bold brass writing and a naturally flowing rhythmic complexity. In the central Adagio a sense of restlessness soon developed implying that that repose needs to be fought for. One passage recalled Tippett again, this time more specifically his Concerto for orchestra. In the brilliant finale, a very tight web of argument developed and was abruptly brushed aside. It was hard to take on board at first hearing, but listening to it again on the BBC iPlayer it all very neatly fell into place. So a worthwhile and genuine new work, accessible but never gimmicky or seeking approval. 

A much reduced BBCSO performed Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 5 in A major "Turkish". His last work in the form, although still an early work, it is a piece full of unusual twists and turns as well as melodic richness of the highest order. Performed with near perfect poise and technique by young Latvian Baiba Skride, every nuance was picked up with taste and musicality, with all those telling Mozartian moments presented in the best possible light.

Baiba Skride performs with the BBCSO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Baiba Skride performs with the BBCSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

The soloist's heart-stopping entry in the first movement’s six bars of Adagio sandwiched between the opening orchestral tutti and the main Allegro, had a pre-echo of the Brahms concerto in her hands. This made sense because later in the performance Joachim’s sumptuous cadenzas were used in all three movements. In the Adagio, Skride produced the most effortless warmth of tone and phrasing that you really never wanted the movement to end. Likewise in the Rondeau – Tempo di minuetto finale, with the partnership between the soloist and the BBCSO brilliantly facilitated by the sensitive conducting of Simone Young. An encore of the third movement of Johann Paul von Westhoff's Imitazione delle Campane produced filigree playing and a masterly grading of pianissimo dynamics.

Alexander von Zemlinsky’s most well-known work, the Lyric Symphony is still inexplicably rarely given an outing. The hapless composer was forever in the shadow of Gustav Mahler, both in his love life and his musical life, as well as failing to gain the notoriety or recognition of his brother-in-law, Arnold Schoenberg. Despite this fate, he was in many ways the most purely talented of the three. It is this symphony that showcases his talents at their most complete and the work was recognised as a masterpiece from the outset. However it then all but disappeared from the repertoire until the 1980s when singers such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau saw the expressive possibilities of the piece, rivalling Maher’s Das Lied von der Erde.

A setting of seven love poems by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore that run continuously, the structure is symphonic with its development of themes and the layout of the songs into recognisable movements. The vocal writing is operatic in the dramatic moments and much more intimate in the gentler songs that are the centrepiece of the score. Most of all the symphony is remarkable for the use of the large orchestra, which throughout exudes a passion that seems to be constantly bursting to break out into emotional outpourings. The musical language seems to be somewhere between early Schoenberg and mature Berg, but has his its particular harmonic and melodic profile which in this work is hard to resist.

Mostly this was a performance that brought out the work's strengths. Simone Young and the BBCSO were on excellent form in both the passionate music and in ensuring the soloists could be heard through the thick textures – though Zeminsky’s brilliant singer-sensitive orchestration helped. Baritone Christopher Maltman was very successful in putting across the declamatory power of the first song, as well as in the melting moments in the moving seventh song. Soprano Siobhan Stagg was more comfortable in the more intimate moments of the fourth song, but struggled to provide the necessary charm in the scherzo-like second song and richness of tone where necessary elsewhere. 

****1