Thursday, August 26, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London
Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.
The Prom opened with the premiere of a BBC commission, Minds in Flux by George Lewis (born 1952 in Chicago, pictured), for orchestra and live electronics. Atmospheric, sinister, active and dissonant, it would pass as a sci-fi movie soundtrack, and although intriguing on a first listen, Minds in Flux also came across as ‘old hat’ – reminding of Stockhausen’s creations from the 1950s, or sometimes of a similar-vintage Penderecki. Electronics and orchestra: difficult to tell the two apart here (that’s probably the point, instruments transformed), but Boulez had already integrated the two components successfully, and iridescently, in Répons; so too Jonathan Harvey in Madonna of Winter and Spring, the latter ironically also a BBC commission for the Proms, way back in 1986. Both composers avoid the feeling that Lewis’s orchestral writing is but jottings (those passages of greater substance reminded of Elliott Carter’s late-1960s’ Concerto for Orchestra), complemented by the constant turning of a radio’s tuning dial (many stations to dash through but not listen to), for Minds in Flux comes across as too open-ended, even aimless – it could have been shorter, it could have been longer – and proved rather repetitive in its collage of sounds, not sustaining its twenty-seven minutes. There was much to admire in the performance, however, and very likely the computer-generated manipulations worked better in the hall.
It was Beethoven for the rest. Lucy Crowe’s gleaming soprano and intense delivery excelled, and was smartly accompanied, in the various sentiments of Ah! perfido (Ah! Deceiver, Opus 65), a concert aria in search of an opera. As for the Second Symphony, well, it was enticingly suggestive in the slow introduction if not fiery or forceful enough in the main Allegro (highlighting the trumpets isn’t the solution), quite playful in fact, but the coda failed to blaze with lift-off (when it does, it’s thrilling; try, as one example, Kubelík’s Amsterdam recording for DG) – as broadcast it was too small a BBCSSO in too large a venue. The Larghetto was mostly idyllic at a spacious tempo, then the Minuet and its Trio danced delightfully, but, at its fastest (even so not a sprint from Volkov), the strings were a little blurred in ensemble, as much down to the acoustic as anything else.