Prom 10: BBC Philharmonic/Tortelier/Sudbin, Royal Albert Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It's always an event when a pianist makes a debut at the Proms: if they click with the audience, they can look forward to a relationship lasting decades. And in the case of 28-year-old Yevgeny Sudbin, the auguries were good: no other pianist in recent years had notched up so many critical accolades at the start of their career. His breathtaking Scarlatti was the touchpaper for his explosive launch, but Rachmaninov is another of the composers he has already made his own. A performance of Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto – so firmly put in the shade by the Second and Third – would let us see what this young pianist was really made of.

Rachmaninov had written it when he was 17; he fell out of love with it, and reworked it nearly 30 years later. Rach One may have the same basic ingredients as Rach Two and Three, but it's much more oblique: the framework in which its quintessentially Rachmaninovian themes are set doesn't have the later works' cast-iron solidity.

From the opening octave cascades to the tender warmth of the first theme, and on to its filigree development, Sudbin's playing had the delicacy of the composer's own of this work, and his dynamics were calibrated with comparable finesse. Abetted by Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic, the second movement's Chopinesque mood came gracefully across, while the springtime charm of the closing allegro was irresistible.

No question what the audience thought: they cheered him to the rafters. But for me, his performance, though technically flawless, did have one flaw: it wasn't attuned to the acoustic requirements of the hall. Next time Sudbin plays a Prom – and there will certainly be a next time – he should let the music breathe more expansively: his performance would have found its natural home at the small, acoustically perfect Wigmore Hall.

This concert was also notable in two other respects. Vaughan Williams' Fourth Symphony got a very convincing airing: if its first movement is over-declamatory, the second sets up a powerfully numinous atmosphere; Tortelier delivered the closing fugue with earth-shattering force.

And we got the 90-years-belated premiere of Arnold Bax's In Memoriam Patrick Pearse: a future Master of the King's Music celebrating an executed hero of the IRA. Perfectly fine, and perfectly forgettable.

BBC Proms continue to 13 September (0845 401 5040)