After genially presiding over the Last Night of the Proms in September 2014, Sakari Oramo returned to the Royal Albert Hall with his BBC Symphony Orchestra last Friday for perhaps the more serious business of launching the 2015 Prom season.
Nielsen's Maskarade overture (such a signature work for Oramo's Scandinavia) provided a fizzing pipe-opener, and already a heartening testimonial to the reinvigoration this ex-CBSO music director has brought to the hardworking BBCSO -- including the introduction of breathtaking dynamics shimmering on the verge of inaudibility.
The world premiere of Gary Carpenter's BBC commission Dadaville (a response to Max Ernst's 1924 relief) proved an engaging juxtaposition of eerily etherereal timbres, and exuberant jazzy rhythms, built fugato-like and with assertive punctuation's from a huge bank of percussionists. Carpenter joins the phalanx of composers who have penned something similarly attractive, not least Mark-Anthony Turnage, and I doubt its surprise firework-fizzing ending can ever be repeated.
Lars Vogt was the muscular, yet surprisingly compact soloist in Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto. This was a reading bristling with veiled threats from Oramo's orchestra which the soloist met with persuasion, a growling left hand gradually giving way to conciliatory right-hand melodiousness.
Vogt supplied his own cadenzas (daring to replace Beethoven's), searching both melodically and harmonically, and setting-up a playful cat-and-mouse game with his collaborators. And, sensibly, there was no encore to impinge upon our memories of this performance.
After Sibelius' brilliantly and economically-scored Belshazzar's Feast Suite, we were treated to the whole shebang with Walton's irresistible oratorio (is it really an example of that vital structure third-rate Victorians appropriated as their own?).
Diction and projection from a range of choruses was astounding in this distancing acoustic. orchestral playing was laser-clear in its accuracy (offstage brass bands relishing this setting), the semi-chorus was touching and plangent, but baritone solo Christopher Maltman, for all his conveyance of outrage, was sometimes caught out by Walton's cruelly unaccompanied pitching demands.
Oramo presided authoritatively and enthusiastically. He will not mind my ending with a mention of the smiling blessing of the conductor who nursed this work into the world at the Leeds Festival in 1931, and who conducted so many tremendous performances in this venue so suited to it: Sir Malcolm Sargent.