Proms 60 & 62: Bavarian Radio SO / Jansons, Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

You would expect the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra to bring their spiritual godfather Richard Strauss to the Proms, but the choice of Also sprach Zarathustra was curious given that the orchestra's higher performance pitch barred the use of the mighty Albert Hall organ – so critical in the opening pages. With a row of loudspeakers servicing a portable electronic substitute, the 2001 sunrise just wasn't Kubrick, folks. The audience looked puzzled, as well they might.

But Mariss Jansons can convince us of pretty much anything and he stoked up quite a blaze from the driving timpani of that supernova of an introduction with the famous rising three-note theme, and this weird mix of the theoretically dry and harmonically sensuous was despatched with aplomb.

The passage for richly divided strings will have come as a pleasant surprise to those who tend to lose interest after the opening, and with a series of bull's-eyes from trumpets and horns, Jansons and his players waltzed us deliriously to the chiming of the midnight bell.

The Bavarians' tonal generosity was less of an asset in Sibelius's Second Symphony, where their soft-grained woodwinds took the chill off. Few conductors possess Jansons' clarity and purpose, but characterisation is not his strongest suit and in the tricky slow movement, wracked with elemental upheavals and challenging silences, the effect was wrong, the cragginess too neatly rounded off. Come the heroic finale, though, Jansons opened his arms to Sibelius's great hymn of liberation and let it sing.

Happy endings then gave way to grim beginnings, with the second concert giving us a rare airing of Arthur Honegger's eminently filmic Symphony No 3 Liturgique. Again the orchestra's benevolent blend took the edge off the venomous sforzandi of the opening movement – the "day of wrath" not perhaps as wrathful as it might be. Subsequently, there was less to heal in the Walton-like slow movement (a glorious creation with flute cast as nightingale) but a sensational climactic collapse in the finale leaving piccolo and solo violin to play us out on a heavenly high.

BBC Proms continue to 8 September (020-7589 8212). Visit independent.co.uk/ promcast for exclusive daily podcasts and listen online to highlights from the previous night's Prom

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