Prom 4: Halle/Elder <br/> Prom 5: London Winds/Collins <br/> Prom 6: OAE/Fischer Royal Albert Hall, London

Subtle cymbals and brash brass
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The Independent Culture

Lashings of anniversary Mozart and Shostakovich apart, it is hard detect much consistency, let alone imagination, in the programming of this year's BBC Proms. Except, that is, in what they exclude; there is not a note of music by any woman composer, for starters.

That still leaves plenty of great works, however roughly lumped together. This season's only appearance of the Halle Orchestra (Prom 4) included a couple of them in exceptionally thoughtful, vital readings under Mark Elder. The care for colour and balance that had gone into the preparation of Debussy's La Mer could be evidenced in just one detail. Debussy makes extensive use of cymbal tone to suggest the swirl of his sea waves, but the part in the score is not detailed. Here the player deployed a whole array of different cymbals, rolling, tapping, even scratching them to yield exactly the right sound for each orchestral context.

Sibelius's Symphony No 1 in E minor, Op 39, did not come in for this sort of refinement; its post-Tchaikovskian pathos and sometimes brash scoring for brass requires a broader brush. Occasionally, as in the speed-ups of the opening, Elder seemed liable to go for the excitement of the moment. But he reasserted his long-term grasp finely in the finale, understanding - as many conductors do not - that its tempo changes can all be related to a single underlying pulse.

And, on second thoughts, the intervening work did suggest a tenuous link with the contents of both Proms 5 and 6. This was the Horn Concerto that Colin Matthews composed in 2001 for the peerless Richard Watkins who reappeared for this Proms premiere marking Matthews's 60th birthday.

This is an unusual work in his output, eschewing his more usual turbulence and rhetoric for long, contoured solo lines against exquisitely scored drifts and glimmerings of twilit texture - excited only by periodic chortlings of off-stage orchestral horns, as if away on some distant hunt.

In short, a night-piece, a serenade - a genre carried over to the late-night Prom 5 and echoed the following evening in the nocturnal wind serenade for the Act II garden scene of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. The late-night performers were London Winds, directed from the clarinet by the irreplaceable Michael Collins, and winding through the beguiling seven movements of Mozart's great Serenade in B flat major, K 361, with a glorious warmth and fullness to the sound.

By way of up-beat, there was Colin Matthews's brief To Compose Without the Least Knowledge of Music, in which he submitted the elements of the musical dice game attributed to Mozart to his own naughty rules. And before that, Jonathan Dove's Figures in the Garden, a confection of minimalist processes and snippets from The Marriage of Figaro composed for the Glyndebourne Mozart celebrations of 1991, which has proved surprisingly haunting and durable over the years.

And so to this year's Glyndebourne visit (Prom 6) with Nicholas Hytner's much-praised production of Cosi, semi staged for the Proms by Samantha Potter. Could an intimate drama for six singers and tiny chorus accompanied by a small, light-toned period orchestra really project under the vastness of Albert's great dome?

It could, and did, thanks to the lithe playing the tireless Ivan Fischer secured from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and to a cast including two outstanding voices. One was the dark-toned baritone of Luca Pisaroni as Guglielmo; the other was the radiantly even-toned mezzo Miah Persson as an exceptionally poignant Fiordiligi. A hot night indeed.

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

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