New orchestral works by James MacMillan generally arrive with either a descriptive title, or with a note that reveals a programme or narrative behind the music. But the Viola Concerto he has written for Lawrence Power comes unadorned; there's no allusive subtitle to the work or any of its movements, while the composer's own programme note focuses on the mechanics of the music, and on how the movements are linked thematically. It's a substantial piece - the premiere, with Power as soloist, and Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic , lasted 35 minutes. It has a formal three-movement plan, tied together through a simple two-note motif, and with the slow movement and its hymn-like, Elgarian solo melody as its emotional centre. There's something very British about lots of the ideas, but some more unexpected episodes - such as the use of a quartet of orchestral violas and cellos to add a viol consort-like layer to the outer movements' textures, the catastrophic climaxes of the slow movement and finale's oriental touches - do sometimes seem to hint at an undisclosed narrative. Most of all, it's a fine showcase for Power's extraordinarily eloquent playing, and his ability to transform the most commonplace phrase into something magically eloquent and memorable. Jurowski followed the premiere with a superbly well-executed but restrained account of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, which never found the punch the work can deliver. At times, it seemed as if Jurowski mistrusted the music's confessional honesty, and couldn't take it at face value, so concentrated on dotting the musical Is and crossing the Ts; it was a strange, rather disconcerting experience. On iPlayer until 22 January.
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