High jinks and taxi horns

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The Independent Culture
WITH THE spectacle of the Russian and American presidents playing farce and bedroom comedy on the international stage, you might think a Soviet-American theme for bank holiday Monday's afternoon family Prom would be ill-conceived.

Not a bit of it, however, with Ronald Corp firmly in charge of the conductor's baton. Renowned as the hero of the recent British light music revival, a choir trainer and himself a noted composer, Corp promised high jinks and taxi horns for his afternoon's entertainment - nothing to do with the White House, this, but relating instead to the opening and closing works of the concert, Gershwin's Girl Crazy overture, and his classic tone poem, An American in Paris.

Corp's New London Orchestra, led by David Juritz, caught the Tin Pan Alley mood of these scores to their last nuance. Readings that were full of ebullient personality sparkled with delicious brass and woodwind solos. Girl Crazy led to girl dowdy, music in glass-slipper mood, with spiky excerpts from Prokofiev's Cinderella ballet, and Rodgers' Cinderella Waltz, scored, or so it seemed, for solo side-drum and orchestra. Steven Osborne, rounding off the first half with his Proms debut in Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto, offered much to admire in his shapely phrasing of the slow movement, and then the finale, delivered at breakneck tempo yet staying on the rails to the end.

After Kabalevsky's dashing Colas Breugnon overture - a welcome revival - Christopher Maltman, baritone, caught the childlike ease of five of Copland's Old American Songs - "Tis the Gift to be Simple" and "The Little Horses" especially - with touching informality.

The bi-national theme was continued in Sunday's evening Prom, the first of a pair from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen. His family hails from Polish and Lithuanian Russia, and Copland, doyen of American 20th-century composers, caught the essence of Mexican popular dance styles in El salon Mexico, opening the concert in spectacular style. With the brightness of West Coast sunshine in their playing, the Los Angeles band was well adapted to the clean-cut texture of this pellucid score. Its response to Copland's bouncy syncopations was vigorous and alert.

Both here and in the UK premiere of his own LA Variations, an homage to the city where he had made his home, Salonen conducted with energy and precision. His new piece, which is divided into 18 sections, used a schematic form of serial chords composed out into parcels of invention that were clearly defined by their different orchestral costumes. Though rhythmically vibrant, the score was also coloured by quieter inventions: for example, some impressive double bass writing at the end of section eight - impressively played.

The orchestra's fine bass tone was heard again in the brooding introduction of Stravinsky's Firebird ballet, which was sumptuously rendered in utter unity of purpose. Though somewhat thin on the ground for a holiday concert, the audience demanded an encore: Prokofiev's Death of Tybalt, delivered to its complete satisfaction.