Making its fourth Proms appearance this season, the BBC National Orchestra under Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård transported the audience from the Orient in Nielsen’s Aladdin, to Ancient Greece for a world première of Pan by B. Tommy Anderson, the orchestra’s own Composer-in-Association, to heaven in Mahler’s Symphony no. 4 in G major.

Thomas Søndergård © Andy Buchanan
Thomas Søndergård
© Andy Buchanan

Henry Wood yearned for Nielsen’s music to be included in the Proms and throughout this performance, it was evident why. At Aladdin’s second Proms performance, delicate orientalism was presented by the orchestra, following the composer’s desire not to get involved with the standard “Exotic Music Racket’. The BBCNOW announced itself with a tidy and interestingly scored march, the 2/4 beat marked by cymbals and bass drum. Despite the work never being used in the play for which it was intended, the images conjured throughout were vivid and consistently brought to life by Søndergård’s detailed and explicit conducting. The orchestra produced a vast sound and the first clarinettist’s pure yet lively solo was colourful. Throughout Aladdin’s Dream, the clean violin melody evoked a great sense of innocent slumber, the sound of the flutes conjuring images of birds singing in the morning and the waking of our protagonist. As the work moved through The Marketplace in Ispahan, an oriental foundation was created by the oboe, clarinet and triangle, conjuring pictures of vendors arriving at the bazaar. This was built upon gradually, each section of the orchestra carefully brought in one by one in its own theme. As tidily as each layer was brought in, Søndergård sensitively ended each part, leaving murmurings of the original three part melody. The Dance of the Prisoners was not a ‘dance’ as one would expect, leading one to believe the term was used ironically as it seemed to convey more the strife of the prisoners fighting against their captors suggested by the ominous tuba and trombone opening and prominent cymbal clashes. The muted trumpets stood out from the powerful orchestra and conveyed the Dance, or rather, plight, of the Black Slaves.

The world première of B. Tommy Andersson’s Pan, composed for BBCNOW and Søndergård, made great use of the full might of the orchestra and the Royal Albert Hall. The piece was busy; each section of the orchestra had a distinctive melody which twisted around those of the other sections, creating the ‘panic’ which the composer identified with the figure from Greek mythology. Other attributes of Pan’s character (imposing, beautiful, and seductive) were lost in the smorgasbord of sound and the power of David Goode’s organ solo.

The opening to Mahler’s Fourth Symphony was light and controlled. The first clarinettist’s performance of the first solo displayed elegance and style through long phrases and a bright tone. The horn solos were played gallantly whilst the double basses' pizzicato section was noteworthy. Søndergård led the orchestra with great composure as the main melody was passed between different sections. There was much colour generated throughout the second movement with beautiful woodwind trills interspersed decoratively throughout. Søndergård, conducting a strict beat, turned stern towards the end, bringing the orchestra off tidily. The leader of the orchestra’s solo was emotional and heartfelt in the third movement. Swedish soprano Klara Ek, making her Proms debut, sang “Das himmlische Leben” with grace and poise. Ek told the story of a child's vision of heaven with clear diction and neat vibrato, which carried across the orchestra. The soprano sang beautifully and with control through exposed passages, a performance met with warm commendation from both Søndergård and the audience.