One of the most consistently lauded aspects of the Proms is the number of premieres and special commissions that are found in the programme each year. This season has 31 premieres, 14 of which are special BBC commissions. Tonight’s Prom featuring the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conductor Peter Oundjian began with one of them – Naresh Sohal’s The Cosmic Dance, a six part orchestral suite inspired by the pre-Big Bang universe (with additional influences from two Hindu texts – the Upanishads and the Rig Veda – being incorporated).
On paper the most obvious point of comparison was Gustav Holst’s The Planets. It may not quite have offered up the lush melodies of that particular celebration of the universe but it was suitably eventful and certainly made good use of the breadth of the orchestra. The piece opened with misty strings floating out of nothingness before being consumed by brass encroachments and forceful percussive interjections. There was a sense at times that the composer may have been trying to almost fit too much into the piece but on the whole the musical depictions of the various celestial bodies were credible. Alongside the Holst comparison there was also a fleeting Charles Ives feel to it, certainly with regard to the variances in pace and texture.
Next, pianist Nikolai Lugansky joined the orchestra for Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor and excelled with his modest, understated style.The relative complexity and melodic allusions of the piano parts were relayed expertly, and alongside the orchestra achieved a wonderful fluidity. The glistening sequences and bold, staggered phrasing undoubtedly dazzled but did so with appreciable restraint. The orchestra’s playing, especially in the intermezzo and finale was equally as poised and graceful, successfully preserving the august feel that runs through the latter stages of the concerto. Even the emphatic finish was executed in strikingly succinct, self-contained fashion.
All of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies are being performed at this year’s Proms and tonight’s concert concluded with his Symphony No. 5 in E minor. It showed the orchestra at the height of their powers, with Oundjian also impressing with his scrupulous approach and warm, inclusive conducting style. It confirmed the inner strength and razor sharpness that defined their playing tonight, most notably in the sense of attack of the brass section and the advancing melody of the strings. As a symphony it may not be as headline-grabbing as the 4th or 6th but tonight the RSNO and Oundjian made it stand out, shine and sound utterly alive.
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