Friday, July 30, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London

Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m. [shared later between BBC Two and BBC Four]

Sibelius’s Second Symphony rounded things off in a blaze of sound, Dalia Stasevska and the (socially-distanced) BBC Symphony Orchestra conjuring an alluringly flexible account – of ardour, volatility, fleetness, eloquence and grandeur – played with freshness and generosity, every note and detail made significant. Impressive.

The Prom opened with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s sublime Serenade to Music (1938), written for Proms-founder Sir Henry Wood, originally for sixteen solo singers and orchestra, performed here in the composer’s arrangement for a quartet of vocalists, chorus and orchestra. Following a short delay due to a “cufflink problem” (for either Clayton or Mofidian), Stasevska let the Serenade flow, Boult-like, maybe a little too much (greater ‘welcome back audience’ sentiment would have been appropriate), but the words, taken from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, a few dodgy solos aside, carried import: “such harmony” indeed.

Only right to give the Royal Albert Hall organ and its nearly 10,000 pipes a thorough workout – in Francis Poulenc’s Organ Concerto (with strings and timpani, completed in 1938). As radio-broadcast, Daniel Hyde was relatively restrained with his flourishing entrée, and he went on to explore the work’s sacred and secular aspects with virtuosity and variety, whether colouristic or dynamically, the BBCSO members in athletic and lyrical support, although some of the slower episodes of this continuous piece dragged.

Following a tediously long Proms-trailer-centric interval (those in the Hall fortunate to escape that), the concert’s second half opened with the world premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s When Soft Voices Die [a BBC/Help Musicians co-commission] for four singers and orchestra, setting two poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley, for an active, dramatic, consolatory and, at times, Britten-esque eleven minutes’ worth, the soloists now in pedigree vocal form.

Following which, the Sibelius won the evening…

Elizabeth Llewellyn, soprano; Jess Dandy, contralto; Allan Clayton, tenor; Michael Mofidian, bass-baritone; BBC Singers