The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's second Prom this season, on Tuesday, contained many notable things. Martyn Brabbins, who is becoming a fine conductor of standard repertoire as well as of new music, galvanised the orchestra's strings into some charac-terful accompaniment for the soprano Inger Dam-Jensen's vividly projected interpretation of Britten's Les illuminations. The concluding performance of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra splendidly made the transition from the sublime to the ridiculous, beginning with the organist spotlit for the famous opening, and continuing with a dramatic "curtain-up" job with the lighting.
Yet in the longer term, this concert will be considered most important for introducing a new Violin Concerto, the longest work so far by the 25-year-old Scottish composer, Stuart MacRae, in which the soloist was Tasmin Little. The choice of composer was not the BBC's but that of the Richard Gregson-Williams Trust, one of whose committee, Richard Stilgoe, was on hand with MacRae at the pre-Prom talk to explain how, in commemoration of the festival director who died in 1990, they had decided to pay for "one work that will last for ever and ever".
Stilgoe's anti-modernist innuendo suggested a vacuous crowd pleaser; fortunately, nothing could have been further from the truth. This substantial, almost half-hour Violin Concerto has its share of lyrical music, and seems beautifully written to suit Little's playing.
But one of its chief virtues is that it saves both the full unfolding of this more rhapsodic approach and the concerto's real centre of gravity for the last of its four movements, creating a satisfying progression from the fragmentation of opening movement via the second movement's elegy for Xenakis and the third-movement scherzo to a finale which triumph-antly avoids burn-out.
More idiosyncratically, MacRae takes advantage of his considerable orchestration skills not merely to avoid swamping the violinist but to provide a captivating, yet always musically and structurally integrated, range of contrasting approaches to the interaction and opposition of solo and both the full orchestra and its component parts. From the ingenious accompaniment of just three cellos offered to the soloist at the work's outset, through prominent solos for cor anglais and, in the last movement, horn and trumpet, this concerto takes bold economies and enormous delight in devising interplays between the solo violin and all shapes and sizes of accompaniment which offer much more than mere accompanying.
Little, the BBC SO and Brabbins managed both to recreate these constantly erupting moments of delight and – even though the composer suggested at the talk that they had never played the work right through before the premiere performance itself – to link them together convincingly. I look forward to hearing MacRae's Violin Concerto again, and to following the future progress of one of our best young composers.
This Prom will be repeated on Monday at 2pm on BBC Radio 3. Box office: 020 7589 8212. www.bbc.co.uk/promsReuse content