Proms 30, 33 & 34 – review

Royal Albert Hall, London
Two star Proms turns – Nigel Kennedy and Mitsuko Uchida – were undoubtedly worth the wait

Queues of unprecedented length had snaked towards the Albert Hall since lunchtime for the late-night concert. Its start was delayed to get everyone in. Onstage, a group of young musicians – black-and-white keffiyehs round their shoulders reflecting their Palestinian identity – sat patiently alongside the more experienced members of the Orchestra of Life. The leader bowed. The players tuned. Still we waited.

Then on dashed their begetter and protector, with that characteristic mix of skip, shuffle and caper, dressed in the pyjama-like jacket and loose layers which are easy to play in and determinedly egalitarian. Violinists have come and gone since Nigel Kennedy caused a stir in Vivaldi's Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989. There have been times when it seemed he, too, might have disappeared – one of the finest violinists in the past half century lost to musical and private confusions. Fortunately this still impish maverick, born in Brighton in 1956 and having been born again in many guises since, is a survivor.

An assiduous worker who never feels he has practised enough, Kennedy is also a musician of fertile creativity. Who else, again and again, could create a new event around a piece of music written nearly 300 years ago? Forget you've heard it "in an elevator or while waiting on the phone", he urged in a programme note. Yes, Nigel, we try. Encountering it afresh with these Palestine Strings, formed in 2011 as an initiative of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, was a reminder of Vivaldi's dazzling ingenuity.

It also confirmed the music's robustness. I say that having sworn never to listen to the Four Seasons ever again, which goes to show. Kennedy had artfully arranged big-band style spots for several of the players – viola, cello, the versatile veteran bass player Yaron Stavi – often with Arabic tonalities legitimately casting a spell over the original, written in the cultural melting pot of Venice. As an encore, Kennedy played a Vivaldi slow movement with 15-year-old violinist Mostafa Saad – a warm gesture, expertly done.

Earlier the same evening, causing queues of their own, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, the widely adored Mariss Jansons, delivered an expansive yet fiery and clean-toned account of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, with aurally arresting offstage drums and bells together with massive, virtuosic brass and virile strings. Even the Scene in the Country: Adagio, which can seem a deal too bucolic for anyone's good, had momentum, not least thanks to some stunning, vivid wind playing.

Another star turn completed the programme: Mitsuko Uchida, in billowing gold, demonstrated the shock and invention in Beethoven's Fourth Piano concerto, often achieving a sound so hushed she seemed merely to be blowing on the keys. The only way to achieve that is to have immense digital strength and complete control. This remarkable player responded to the stamping and cheering with solo Bach. The Albert Hall reshaped itself into a small drawing room, each of us alone with pianist and composer.

Russian music formed the core of Monday's BBC Philharmonic programme with their conductor laureate, Gianandrea Noseda. Popular and effective during his time in Manchester, Noseda's career has soared of late – he opens the LSO season with Verdi's Rigoletto next month. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet shone as soloist in Prokoviev's fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, his expertise in Haydn and Bartók feeding into the taut clarity of his fingerwork. Edward Cowie's world premiere, Earth Music 1 – The Great Barrier Reef, used cascades of percussion, gathering force like a large wave glittering with shoals of fish, manta rays, barracuda (not me being fanciful; he suggests this in his programme note) in its aurally charged nine minutes.

Often drawing on native folk song, both Borodin and Tchaikovsky wrote melodies that fix themselves in your brain. Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, which opened the Prom, generously provided the 1953 musical Kismet with its irresistible showstopper, Stranger in Paradise. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 2, "Little Russian" has its own bewitching string tune in the last movement, heart-breaking and syncopated: the sun winning its battle over a cloud.


Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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