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.
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