Prior: Velesslavitsa (Concerto for piano, two violins and cello)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Toccata
WORKS: Velesslavitsa
PERFORMER: Zhang Xiao Ming (piano), Simone Porter, Michael Province (violin), Nathan Chan (cello); Northern Sinfonia/Alexander Prior

Television viewers and the classical music world have recently been made well aware of Anglo-Russian composer-conductor Alexander Prior, now aged 19, and of his concerto project Velesslavitsa (‘Glory to Veles’). Named after the Slavic god of music, Velesslavitsa is, in the composer’s words, ‘a synthesis of pagan and Christian cultural traditions’. 
The work’s absolute fluency is in its way remarkable. But both in terms of the musical material and of what its composer does with it, there is disconcertingly little here that’s at all as memorable as it needs to be: imagine a Russian take on Alan Hovhaness’s idiom at its most prolix and unvaryingly characterised (all three of Velesslavitsa’s movements are much the same in manner and tone).
The choice of very young soloists is misguided: the ten-year-old Zhang Xiao Ming is a stronger player than his slightly older colleagues, but none of them yet merit exposure at this level. The finest aspect of this recording is Prior’s conducting; the Northern Sinfonia delivers up to the hilt, and Prior balances their quality support excellently in relation to his soloists. Perhaps conducting is more where his true talent lies? No doubt we’ll see. Malcolm Hayes