Ilan Volkov stepped down as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor 10 years ago, but he has kept up his connection with the orchestra ever since, regularly returning as a guest. His concerts are always worth exploring: it’s hard to think of another conductor who is so wide ranging and just as likely to programme a work by John Cage as a Bruckner symphony.
So it was no surprise to find him beginning his prom with the first performance of a BBC commission from Linda Catlin Smith, before going on to Janáček, Szymanowski and Tchaikovsky.
The BBCSSO clearly enjoy working with Volkov, too; the playing was consistently alert and incisive. Their account of Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, was as thrillingly febrile as anything I’ve heard in the Albert Hall this year. Szymanowski’s Love Songs of Hafiz – one of the handful of pieces that pin his music on to the coat tails of modernism – was full of iridescent beguilement, with Georgia Jarman as the effortlessly soaring soprano, and the narrative of Janáček’s symphonic poem, The Fiddler’s Child, getting its first outing at the Proms, was laid out as clearly as in any of his operas.
Catlin Smith’s Nuages was something of a disappointment, though. An 18-minute essay in delicate orchestral colours and textures, its dappled effects didn’t project the distinctive musical personality that comes through so strongly in Catlin Smith’s chamber music, even though Volkov and the orchestra presented it with every bit of the care and refinement the intricate scoring demands.
• Available on BBC Sounds. The Proms continue until 14 September.