Arts: Music: Magic and mystery

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A PARTICULARLY hot and sticky night in the Royal Albert Hall on Monday saw two Proms: an early-evening orchestral programme by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Tadaaki Otaka, and a late-night concert by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under Sir Simon Rattle.

The Welsh orchestra's programme - an attempt to respond to the season's "Musical Magic and Mystery" theme - was decidedly odd, lassoing two warhorses of the Romantic repertory around a recent work by Sofia Gubaidulina and some rare Szymanowski. The Dukas and Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra were played with relish. The tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt lacked the power and presence to put across the perfumed excesses of Szymanowski's Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, with intonation - probably another consequence of the heat, which was a problem for the players as well as for the singer.

Gubaidulina's And: the feasting at its height ... - five years old and receiving its British premiere - is an almost-30-minute cello concerto of sorts; the solo part was written for David Geringas, who gave an impassioned account of its melismas, swoopings and twitterings. Responding to a vision of the Last Judgement by the Chuvash poet Gennady Aigi, Gubaidulina has come up with music of greater energy and direction than usual.

This new work may not be Gubaidulina's most powerful statement, but it is an interesting extension of her individual and often compelling manner.

The performance of Oliver Knussen's now seminal Coursing which began Rattle's concert was interrupted by showers of leaflets descending on the audience and a noise like a fire alarm which was so disruptive that it was a wonder that this conductor and his excellent players carried on. These leaflets contained some vituperative and personally offensive stuff suggesting that the British new music scene was in the hands of a corrupt cabal.

Rattle insisted on playing Coursing again, after which four pieces already premiered by this Birmingham ensemble provided a highly effective showcase for these performers' efforts over the years, as well as their considerable skills.

Keith Potter