Georg Friedrich Haas may be one of the leading composers of today, widely performed around Europe and increasingly in the US too, but until this concert by Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, his music had never been heard at a Prom in the Albert Hall. Volkov made the UK premiere of Haas’s Concerto Grosso No 1 the centrepiece of his programme, framing it with Mozart’s D major Notturno K286, with four echoing groups of strings and horns disposed around the Albert Hall, and a fine, impressively nimble account of Richard Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony.
The Strauss linked neatly with the Haas, for the soloists in the Concerto Grosso are a quartet of alphorns – the Hornroh Modern Alphorn Quartet, who gave the premiere four years ago. Haas grew up in the Vorarlberg region of Austria to which the instruments are native, but his use of them here seems less autobiographical than musical. An individual alphorn can only play the pitches from a single harmonic series, but by using four of different sizes, Haas can create microtonal harmonies, which he then superimposes on the tempered tuning of the orchestra.
The orchestral textures pulse and writhe underneath the alphorns’ chords and their occasional, almost Wagnerian, calls and fanfares, but firm harmonic ground is hard to find anywhere in this fascinating half-hour encounter. Occasionally, the music seems to get a sure footing in a compromised tonality, only to lose it again just as quickly. As the alphorns press on implacably, the orchestra tries to find an accommodation with them, a connection with their harmonic world, though by the end of the work nothing seems to have been convincingly resolved.
- Available on BBC iPlayer.
- The BBC Proms continue until 8 September.