Monday, August 30, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London
Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.
The evening opened with The Way to Castle Yonder, music compiled from interludes in Oliver Knussen’s Sendak opera Higgledy Piggledy Pop! – brilliantly scored, so inventive and expressive, the MCO and Sir George relishing every descriptive facet. There followed the first performance of Three Consorts, pieces by Purcell transcribed by George Benjamin, at once respectful and liberated: a perfect example of musical minds meeting en rapport, however far apart they might be in time and seem to be in terms of style.
Surprisingly, Pierre-Laurent Aimard didn’t quite fit with the Ravel (even though it’s music he has played for years, and recorded, with Boulez), and the MCO was less than pristine initially. The opening movement was sluggish, Aimard unkempt at times, the Finale similarly, and the central Adagio dragged and occasionally stabbed at; lovely woodwind contributions though, for which Aimard accompanied delicately. The pianist offered an encore, George Benjamin’s Relativity Rag, far more complex and rag-wayward than the title might suggest, if enjoyable as a rug-pulling study, played with aplomb.
This without-interval Prom ended with further Benjamin, the premiere of his Concerto for Orchestra (BBC/MCO co-commission), in memoriam Knussen. More a one-movement Symphony (of fifteen minutes), music of exposition, development and direction, the ‘concerto’ element being concerned with keeping the players busy and sharing the limelight, all instrumental departments catered for, played with confidence and sensitivity. It’s a texturally alluring opus, sometimes shadowy, sometimes agile and glinting, that is with elements of ‘slow’ movement and scherzo … but maybe the disintegrated closing bars, marked by sadness, aren’t quite where the piece seemed to be going… time will tell, another listen is mandatory.