Prom 34: BBC Philharmonic / Tortelier, Royal Albert Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

This French programme proved one of the more coherent of the season's often all-too-miscellaneous Proms. From the pre-First World War period there were two scores of Ravel at his most exquisitely hedonistic; from the 1930s, Albert Roussel's Third Symphony in a brusque idiom sounding like Dukas crossed with Prokofiev; and from the 1960s, a showpiece by Henri Dutilleux synthesising elements of both the Ravel and Roussel styles in a more modernist manner.

With Yan Pascal Tortelier revisiting the BBC Philharmonic that he served so well as chief conductor from 1992 to 2002, one could be confident of idiomatic performances. Sure enough, every sensitised frisson of tremolo strings, every delicious stab of muted horns in Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole (1908) was immaculately graded and placed, yet the dance movements really danced - as, indeed, did their conductor.

Dutilleux's Métaboles (1964) proved a stiffer test. A five-section deconstruction, then putting together again, of the orchestra, this works itself out more by way of sonorous gestures than thematic argument. Is there an excess of virtuosity over substance - even a hint of kitsch? At least it is the best-quality French kitsch, and, after a cautious start, Tortelier brought it all to a dazzling culmination.

The kind of Orientalism indulged in Tristan Klingsor's poems for Ravel's Shéhérazade (1903) may have been all-too ironically deconstructed by the late Edward Said, but one only has to hear a magical bar or two to succumb once more. And the American opera star Denyce Graves proved a sumptuously toned mezzo in the tradition of Régine Crespin, mitigated by a slight beat in mid-range, but amply conveying the exotic yearning of the score.

Tortelier positively tore into the oddly gawky tunes of Roussel's Symphony No 3 (1930). Odd is the word, for despite the obvious Frenchness of Roussel's more lyrical moments, there is a recurrent sense of something unresolved; of harmonies short-circuiting or angular lines running off in tangents. Yet it is hard to resist the incantatory power of the slow movement or the joyous positivism of its outer movements. The audience were duly excited.

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

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