Here was a pair of Proms to which all those who insist that Western classical music is dead ought to have been frogmarched.
Here was a pair of Proms to which all those who insist that Western classical music is dead ought to have been frogmarched. The Royal Albert Hall was packed, the atmosphere electric. Evidently the main draw was the talent of the Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons for unfolding the most hackneyed classics as if they were exciting new discoveries.
Few who heard it will have forgotten his revelatory reading of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in last year's Proms. This time he brought the Bavarian Radio SO, whose nobly rounded brass, warm and weighty strings and power without stridency instantly knocked on the head another of those pervasive notions: that incessant recording has neutralised national styles of playing, and that symphony orchestras these days all sound the same.
The combination immediately proved winning in Dvorak's Symphony No 8 in G major. Here Jansons' deftness in revivifying the detail went hand-in-hand with his mastery of the long line in a thrillingly cumulative development of the first movement. The Bavarians responded with some wondrously hushed strings in the slow section, a delectable lightness in the third-movement coda and a crackling vitality in the finale variations. This was a reading which, while reaffirming the work's bucolic delights, simultaneously revealed just how taut and original a conception it really is.
With Ein Heldenleben the Bavarians were on home ground - its composer, Richard Strauss, was a Munich man. Just how at home became clear when the stage was suddenly plunged into darkness during the battle sequence; conductor and orchestra continued note-perfect.
Jansons' fellow Latvian, Gidon Kremer, arrived to open the second programme in Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor. Rather surprisingly, he read the solo part from the music and just occasionally seemed a bit adrift of the orchestra. Nonetheless he spun a characteristically sensitised line through the gloom of the opening nocturne and held the vast concourse breathless in the unaccompanied cadenza, while Jansons made something quite fearsomely savage of the scherzo second movement and sonorously elegiac of the Passacaglia third.
As for Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6 in B minor, "Pathétique", which concluded the concert, not even Jansons' celebrated recording with the Oslo Philharmonic had prepared one for the sheer intensity - without vulgarity - of his, and his orchestra's, response to the work's extremes of foreboding, passion, elegance, physical excitement and giving up the ghost: an experience that throbbed through the mind like a fever for hours afterwards.
Proms end 11 September. Proms 19 and 20 available online to tomorrow (020-7589 8212; www.bbc.co.uk/proms)Reuse content