September the Eleventh, Royal Albert Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, and also shown on BBC One and BBC Two – I indulged all three at one time or another (nothing synchronised though) – and opening with a likeable new work (details a click away at foot), a mix of vision and rhythmic élan, but it simply stopped rather than finished. Bringing together Malcolm Arnold and Ruth Gipps (both born in 1921) was a good idea, the former’s Variations recognisably by him (BBCSO, leader Stephen Bryant, in good form). The mystery of the night was how Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings would be arranged: strings integrated with Barber’s own choral version, Agnus Dei (BBC Singers), was the answer, which worked well-enough and was certainly apt for ‘9/11’ twenty years on. (At the Last Night in 2001, within days of the New York atrocities, Barber’s Adagio had also appeared: http://www.colinscolumn.com/agony-and-remembrance-twenty-years-on-leonard-slatkin-remembers-9-11/) In 2021 some sprightly if touching Ravel was an admirable foil. There’s no doubting that Ksenija Sidorova is an outstanding accordionist, and that Stuart Skelton is a master-singer of Wagner if here strained Prize-wise (and vocally off-colour elsewhere).
The concert’s second half opened with some lively Florence Price and Ksenija returned for fiery Piazzolla, Stuart then doing something vibrant down Argentine way (although it tired him for later). Balm to the ear came with Percy Grainger’s a cappella take on Brigg Fair (seminal to Delius), and then it was down to the tried, trusted and traditional Proms-party fare, if arranged this year, the usual mix of bonhomie and irritation; and the SO’s playing was beginning to fray. Best of all, a photo-finish with Jerusalem, was Sakari’s heartfelt and uplifting speech.
The Last Night’s bill of fare: