Prom 13: BBC No Wales / Hickox <br/> Prom 14: BBC SO / Robertson, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Richard Hickox's last Prom as principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales appropriately celebrated the conductor's indefatigable advocacy of British music. In Elgar's In the South (Alassio), Hickox caught the work's extreme changes of mood: the vehemence of the Grandioso "Roman" episode brought out Elgar's audaciously primordial writing and the ensuing fragile viola solo held a packed Royal Albert Hall in its thrall.

Arthur Bliss's quirky and occasionally surprisingly dissonant Colour Symphony is the kind of unjustly neglected work Hickox has explored to great effect in his six years at the helm of his orchestra, and it received a committed and persuasive performance. The crowning glory of the concert was Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, a work tailor-made for the vast spaces of the Albert Hall, delivered at white-heat in an electrifying interpretation. Hickox lived and breathed every note, investing a Mahlerian intensity in great choral tuttis. This outstanding event will surely long resonate in the memory of all those present.

In the following Prom given by the BBC SO under David Robertson, which featured a curiously hard-driven Haydn "Surprise" Symphony and the sensitive artistry of Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist in Brahms' First Piano Concerto, it was the centrepiece of the concert, the UK premiere of George Benjamin's "Dance Figures", which found conductor and orchestra in their element, responding with great imagination to realising Benjamin's rich textures, enticing harmonies and audacious rhythms.

Comprising nine satisfyingly contrasting choreographic scenes, with the spirits of Stravinsky, Ravel and Webern recalled at various stages, this richly colourful piece is Benjamin's first work conceived for dance, though it works just as well as a Concerto for Orchestra, refreshing and invigorating the repertoire without arid experimentation or striving for effect.

BBC Proms to 9 September (020 7589 8212; www.bbc.co.uk/proms)

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