Classical review: Hadland's Beethoven, the Temple Choir's Britten, and Anthony Payne's excellent new Vaughan Williams orchestration

Prom 69 – Hadland, Oslo Phil, Petrenko (****)

Prom 70 – Davies, Morris, Temple Choir, BBC Singers, Hill (***)

Prom 71 – Hughes, Johnston, BBCSO, Vanska (****)

There’s something intriguing about the young Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland: his musicality is very subtle, and no other pianist can match his poised and pearlised touch. But since his London performances had hitherto been confined to chamber music, Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto with the Oslo Philharmonic under Osmo Vanska would be different sort of test.

The surprise was that he turned that into chamber music too. His passage-work during Prom 69 had an intimacy one doesn’t normally associate with Beethoven’s concertos, and he gave the cadenza a musing quality. The lovely dialogue between piano and orchestra in the Adagio was lifted into something magical, an effect only possible when soloist, conductor, and orchestra have worked together as long as these have done. Hadland’s encore, a Byrd Galliard, was a typically left-field choice.

Prom 70 didn’t attract a big audience, but its first work – Britten’s “A Boy Was Born” – got a stunning performance by a combination of the Temple Church Choir and the BBC Singers under David Hill’s direction. Written when the composer was only nineteen, this choral cycle of Christmas carols reveals a Houdini-like ingenuity in its games with form, and its textures were rendered here with immaculate translucency. But the other work in this programme was one of those Proms experiments one wishes had not been attempted, as the choirs were joined by countertenor Iestyn Davies and organist Greg Morris for the London premiere of George Lloyd’s “Requiem” (which had been dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales). Distant echoes of Verdi and Britten only served to point up the poverty of its musical invention, with a handful of choral effects endlessly recycled. Davies’s monochrome part was pitched so low that he sounded like a tenor, which seemed a waste of his talents.

And how does one breathe fresh life into a work as hackneyed and ubiquitous as Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”? Osmo Vanska’s answer in Prom 71 was to shut the doors, bar latecomers, and conduct the work as a majestic ritual. He was aided by superb performances from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and from soprano Ruby Hughes, who gave its three laments a searing immediacy. But that Prom’s wild card was the world premiere of Anthony Payne’s orchestration of Vaughan Williams’s “Four Last Songs” with mezzo Jennifer Johnston as the soloist. This ‘new’ work now forms a bewitching coda to the great English composer’s oeuvre, and it got a bewitching performance.

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