Prom 46 - Philharmonia/Salonen - Royal Albert Hall, London | Concerts |

Prom 46 - Philharmonia/Salonen - Royal Albert Hall, London

The Observer – Andrew Clements – More than 35 years separated Arvo Pärt's first three symphonies from the fourth, first performed last year by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Salonen brought it to Britain with the Philharmonia, surrounding the premiere with superbly performed 20th-century works: Mosolov's raucously brassy piece of Soviet constructivism, The Foundry, Ravel's Left-Hand Concerto, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as the slightly unfocused soloist, and Scriabin's unfailingly effective Poem of Ecstasy, which here was made almost too refined for its own brazen good.

Pärt's Fourth Symphony is a lengthy work – three movements lasting almost 40 minutes, scored for strings with harp and percussion. Some of the string writing is very beautiful, perhaps recalling Shostakovich's late quartets, while other passages look back to the bleakness of late Sibelius, but none of it is at all substantial, or comes closes to justifying the scale on which Pärt presents it. Yet how this sort of limpid tonal world can be freshly minted was demonstrated eloquently when the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, playing under its former principal conductor Ilan Volkov, included Howard Skempton's luminous Lento in a late-night programme of works from the English and American experimental traditions.

First performed in 1991, Lento is a timeless piece, both an intensely personal continuation of the English pastoral tradition and a far more convincing assertion of the continuing expressive power of tonal music than anything in Pärt's world of faux-religiosity. Volkov and the BBCSSO also gave London premieres to Bun No 1, a post-Webern essay in pointillism from 1965 by Skempton's teacher, Cornelius Cardew, which gets more and more interesting and unpredictable as it goes on; and, with John Tilbury as soloist, to Morton Feldman's Piano and Orchestra, hypnotically compelling and ravishingly beautiful.