Prom 35 &amp; 36: BBC SSO / Volkov, Royal Albert Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In this two-day residency, Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish gave a progress report on their way with the Romantics - trying hard, can do better - and introduced new pieces by two British composers.

Jonathan Harvey's ... towards a pure land is a musical vision of Buddhist doctrines to match those of Philip Glass, though the means is very different. Instead of Glass's mantra-like meditations, there is a state of constant impermanence. It's measured against the sustained chords of an ensemble of six string players within the orchestra, who inspire a stillness around which flurries of woodwind, booming brass and tumultuous accelerations circulate and evaporate.

Given a sensitive, lucid performance, it charmed the audience more than James Dillon's Andromeda did the next night. Dillon is often said to be without honour at home, yet this was his fourth BBC Proms commission in 15 years. The latest, according to your prejudice, was either a vindication of his knotty confrontations and soulful withdrawals, or a triumph of hope over experience.

Andromeda is a piano concerto in one movement lasting well over half an hour, with the solo deftly played here by Noriko Kawai. Often something repetitive is going on to anchor the turbulent layers. Sections dovetail smoothly, and there is in principle plenty to stir the soul. A predominance of moderately fast pace and mid-range dynamics, however, made it difficult to discern the larger pattern.

That said, it's not so easy to grasp the continuity and direction of Stravinsky's Firebird ballet, a complete performance of which was the second concert's other highlight. Yet the music holds you all the way. Dazzling colours, fleeting phrases, sound on the wing, Volkov brought it all together apart from an oddly perfunctory end.

Fine preparation and undercharacterised big moments marked the orchestra's Schumann and Sibelius performances, but the downplaying of drama paid off in Mozart's Piano Concerto No 25 as the soloist Stephen Kovacevich located its solitary, contemplative tendencies.

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