Prom 39: Johnston/BBCSO/Oramo; Prom 40: Hadelich/Isserlis/Britten Sinfonia/Adès, Royal Albert Hall, review

Two concerts in which contemporary music proved the highlight

Steph Power
Friday 19 August 2016 12:37
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Cellist Steven Isserlis performs at Prom 40
Cellist Steven Isserlis performs at Prom 40

If the Proms awarded medals for cello gymnastics, soloist Steven Isserlis would surely win gold for his fiendishly beautiful rendition of Thomas Adès's Lieux retrouvés. Performed in Prom 40 in a new orchestral version, this was just one scintillating event, however, in two concerts in which contemporary music proved the highlight.

Here, a feisty Britten Sinfonia also hosted violinist Augustin Hadelich; incisive and yet lithe in Francisco Coll's surrealist, anti-flamenco Four Iberian Miniatures. The evening was bookended by rapier, classical wit in the form of Beethoven’s eighth and Prokofiev's first symphonies – which conductor Adès explored with far greater boldness than Sakari Oramo had mustered the previous day in Mahler’s epic Symphony No 5, or the rare gem of Haydn's pre-Sturm und Drang Symphony No 34.

Nonetheless, the warmth and richness of the BBC Symphony Orchestra won through in this Prom 39, especially in Charlotte Bray's new cello concerto, Falling in the Fire. Propelled by outrage at the atrocities visited upon Syria by Isis, Bray has responded with music that is defiantly exquisite as well as stark, for example, with the high-ringing tinnitus that follows a bomb explosion. Surging with energy, her colouristic writing was acutely felt by both the orchestra and brilliant soloist Guy Johnston.

bbc.co.uk/proms 0845 401 5040

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