Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Monday, August 15, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

June 13, 1954, the first performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Tuba Concerto, given by Philip Catelinet with the LSO and Barbirolli, commercially recorded the following day. It’s in three concise movements and is characteristic of the composer, whether spiky rhythms or the lovely melody of the central ‘Romanza’. Constantin Hartwig was superb regarding every demand, so lyrical in the middle movement, impressively poised in the cadenzas, and he could not have wished for a better collaboration than that fashioned by Sakari Oramo. Hartwig offered a syncopated encore, an arrangement of Paul McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’.

Opening the Prom was the UK premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s twenty-five-minute Time Flies (BBC co-commission, scored for large orchestra including Turnage’s trademark soprano saxophone), first heard in Hamburg in September last year conducted by Alan Gilbert. The German city is the subject of the second movement, preceded by London and rounded by Tokyo. (More info here: Time Flies is an engaging score, rather folksy and lightly detailed first of all, Turnage at his most English (one motif, akin to a nursery rhyme, had me thinking of Eric Coates), then more-strident (woodwinds and brass, and rather John Adams-like) for Hamburg, if evocative, maybe with a social-decay edge, strings adding intensity, with flowering optimism latterly coming through; and Tokyo is full of complex dance rhythms, no problem for the BBCSO and Oramo; indeed, played with confident swagger.

It’s ten years since Oramo recorded Elgar’s First Symphony in Stockholm,, and there was a previous BBCSO concert of it. This Proms performance was magnificent, fabulously played, lived-in yet crackling with the passion of a first-love discovery. The ebb and flow of the opening movement, the public and the private aspects, were beautifully judged as integral to whole, whether powerfully energetic or confiding, embracing multifaceted emotions. The Scherzo was brought off with militaristic elan as well as generously expressive broadenings – Oramo going with his heart – a reverie as the wonderful slow movement is approached, here distilled raptly, music beyond words, ppp at least by the close. With a Finale that strutted, suggested panoramic views, and ended gloriously, this was altogether special.