Prom 50: London SO/ Davis <br/> Prom 51: Gustav Mahler YO/Jordan, Royal Albert Hall

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The Independent Culture

Two poor attendances for attractive programmes. Sir Colin Davis and the LSO have provided highlights of recent seasons; they did so again with Berlioz and Elgar. The huge introduction and momentum of the former's Les francs-juges overture exemplified one of the classic composer-conductor pairings of our time.

As for Elgar's No 2, music all too easily played like a state funeral emerged as a tumult of shifting harmonies overwhelmed in turn by brass and lamenting strings, of panic and reconciliation, of ecstasy recollected in tranquillity and a final redemptive glow.

Just as powerful was James MacMillan's The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. This composer's major Proms commission has been regularly revisited; 16 years on, it sounds fresher than some of his subsequent works. It's the second half that catches fire, after a rather inflated series of crescendos and ponderous percussion. The LSO took well to its accumulations of strings, and Davis found something more threatening in its final crescendo than the "simple gesture of triumphant joy" described by its composer.

The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, a European, pre-professional band picked each year, began at its best with an impressively horny performance of Don Juan by Richard Strauss. Violins had weight, colour and flexibility, given a supple rubato by the conducting of Philippe Jordan, which also secured finely balanced touches of horn and woodwind. That this music is perfect for the age-group was exemplified in a lusciously phrased oboe solo midway.

Another take on adolescent highs and lows, the Poème de l'amour et de la mer by Chausson, brought a more blended sound to support Susan Graham's sumptuous, forthright voice in a performance that intensified as the music sank towards its terminal gloom.

Sadly, the Symphony No 6 by Shostakovich failed to penetrate its often brilliant surfaces. In sympathetic hands, this music appears to take a winding path from the sanatorium to the circus; here, it began in a big freeze and ended as a scary military march.

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

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