Proms: Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Lazarev Royal Albert Hall, London / R3

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The Independent Culture
Sunday's Prom was flanked either end by Romantic Russians in Spanish mode. Alexander Lazarev made dancing music of Glinka's jaunty Jota Aragonesa; his beat was as clear as day and his rostrum manner appropriately flamboyant. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra lilted their way through a score where the second subject hints at Liszt, while castanets, squeeze-box- style string writing and heavy work for brass and timpani heighten the colour. It was a fairly easy-going performance, with nice solo fiddle work from leader Edwin Paling, but by the time we reached the first encore - a lively "Spanish Dance" from Glazunov's Raymonda ballet - the heat was fully on and the tempo locked in top gear.

After Glinka, Lazarev was joined by Tasmin Little for Prokofiev's pungently scored Second Violin Concerto. Here, the orchestral canvas is rather more modest: there are horns but no trombones, a bass drum but no timpani, and extraordinarily judicious employment of the forces that are left. Little's unaccompanied opening phrases were slow, flexible and tonally ample, with an insistent - though fairly wide - vibrato. It was a thoughtful reading, with due care taken over articulation, though some passage-work sounded mechanical and the gorgeous second movement was short on bitter- sweetness. I'm thinking in particular of that magical moment when, after a spiky central section, the orchestral violins waft back with the principal theme and the soloist responds with hugging embellishments. The finale was lively but lacking in "cut and thrust" (this time it was the second theme that was under-played), but, viewed overall, it was a nicely judged performance, keenly accompanied.

The evening's star soloist, however, was counter-tenor David James, who stood elevated above the rear of the orchestra and intoned the ethereal North Georgian lament that forms the principal leitmotif of Giya Kancheli's riveting Third Symphony. James opens and closes the piece, whereas much of the first section is dominated by gently tapped marching rhythms. A lone bell chimes, huge tutti alternate with sparsely scored held chords and, while some of the bowed string writing tended to evaporate in the hall's vast acoustic, the louder music positively basked in an extended reverberation period.

The performance was finely tensed and the audience transfixed, so that, by the time Lazarev launched into a wild and woolly account of Tchaikovsky's quasi-Wagnerian Francesca da Rimini, everyone welcomed the catharsis. Sound waves billowed, big drums thundered; there was menace from the horns, lashings of cymbal-spray and the crash of a tamtam (given real welly); and if the final onslaught was perhaps just a tad too reckless, the central love music was engagingly phrased - especially by lead clarinettist John Cushing.

After Glazunov's Raymonda came the second and final encore ("not by Glazunov", as the conductor mischievously reminded us) - a Scottish reel, with everyone clapping, singing along and generally having a high old time. When Lazarev turned his back on the orchestra and conducted the audience instead, our spirits soared even higher. It was great fun - and it could only have happened at the Proms. Concert repeated tomorrow at 2pm on BBC Radio 3

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