The concerto, receiving its world premiere, consisted of two outer movements, both fizzing with scherzo-like high spirits and awesome virtuosity, enclosing a "threnody for sad trumpet", which Berkeley has described as "the still, beating heart of the concerto". It is in memoriam Jane Attenborough, a victim of the tsunami disaster that occurred while Berkeley was writing the movement. The principal player, Philippe Schartz, essayed the solo line with superbly controlled eloquence.
Chinese cymbals unleashed the ferocious Finale, in which thematic strands were convincingly brought together. A massive climax was crowned by a show-stopping contribution from the RAH organ. In the aftershock, a moment of stunned silence preceded a brief reflection on the "Threnody" before the opening material cut in, bringing the work to an abrupt but incisive close.
Berkeley'sConcerto for Orchestra is far more than just a showpiece. Though dynamic and technically demanding, the material is conceived in symphonic terms and organically developed. It is also classically proportioned and finely balanced, with each of the outer movements containing a slower, reflective section, deftly mirroring the concerto's entire structure.
While the whole orchestra took the demands upon their virtuosity in their stride, the BBC NOW strings deserve especial mention for skilfully negotiating the demands made of them. Hickox brought off the contrasting moods consummately, delighting in the white heat brilliance of the outer movements and hushed lyricism in the central lament.
Happily, the rest of the programme was no anti-climax. Susan Gritton was the sensitive soloist in Britten's song cycle Quatre Chansons Françaises. These poignant miniatures contrasted perfectly with the pyrotechnics in Berkeley's concerto and also the epic-scale original version (1913) of Vaughan Williams's London Symphony, which formed the second half of the concert.
This Prom can be heard online at www.bbc.co.uk/proms
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