Prom 51: BBCSO/Dausgaard – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Kevin Volans's new piano concerto, his third, comes without any suggestive title and no extra-musical associations, other than being written specially for Barry Douglas, who was the soloist in the premiere with Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It's a single movement, lasting about 20 minutes, which unrolls as a kind of frieze, episode by episode, with just enough cross-references to give the whole a sense of unity, and broadly outlining an A-B-A shape, with the central part more introspective than the outer ones.

The piano writing is challenging and effective, full of intricately worked rhythmic patterns and clumping chords, and Douglas played it with great brilliance and precision. The orchestra sometimes counterpoints the glittering solo detail with feisty wind, provides veiled chordal backgrounds to its unfolding lines, or gets entangled in complex chordal textures that constantly realign themselves in a way that recalls late Morton Feldman, though Feldman's music never has the slightly confrontational edge that some of Volans' exchanges imply. Altogether it's a strikingly attractive and engaging piece.

Dausgaard had taken over this concert from Jiří Bělohlávek, who is unwell, but left his programme unchanged. So there was a sprightly rather than grandly ceremonial account of the overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger to begin, and an urgent and always purposeful one of Brahms's First Symphony, completing the season's Brahms cycle. There was also some rare Liszt as part of the bicentenary tribute: La Notte is the second of the Three Funeral Odes from the mid 1860s, a reworking of the piano piece Il Penseroso from the Italian book of the Années de Pèlerinage, which is given a raw-edged austere orchestration and a new, more optimistic central episode, and adds a tag from one of the Hungarian rhapsodies for good measure.

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Andrew Clements

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