Prom 29: RPO / Slatkin, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Olympics past, present and future put the hop, skip and jump into this pair of Proms. Chen Yi's Olympic Fire came first in Leonard Slatkin's programme with the Royal Philharmonic – only fitting on the opening day of the Beijing Games. But had this crowd-pleaser been written by anyone but a Chinese national, we'd have considered it a cheesy Western imitation of traditional Chinese music. Chen Yi's future was brutally put on hold during the Cultural Revolution and compulsory "re-education" has clearly informed her work.

The Olympic fire spluttered through the relentlessly motoric outer sections. The spirit of competition was present in the percussion section, with a virtuosic last-minute spurt from the RPO's timpanist, Matt Perry, snatching the gold from his colleague on xylophone. A bronze for Chen Yi.

And for Olga Kern in Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. One felt the kinship between her and Slatkin throughout – an essential part of the work's intricate alchemy. But for all her pianistic elegance, and her beautiful, unforced sound, this was a performance lacking in vital capriciousness and passion.

We were back in business with Slatkin's sweeping account of Vaughan Williams's Sixth Symphony. Rarely can its cynical tub-thumping have disintegrated into so uneasy and numbing a pretence of peace.

BBC Proms continue to 13 September (08454 015 040)

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