The internet makes it simple for the mind's ear to travel. A click to this page on Bachtrack and you're right there: in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum in Prague, listening to the Czech Philharmonic.

chandan
chandan

Hearing that orchestra play away from home, in the Royal Albert Hall, one loses something - a lot of the instrumental detail inevitably drifts off into the hall. But much of the music in last night's Prom came from the Czech Philharmonic's unique tradition. Martinu, represented by his very personal last symphony, was a member of the violin section. Dvorak was a viola player in orchestras in Prague which preceded the foundation of the Czech Philharmonic.

It is this perspective, right from the heart of the orchestra, which informs every bar. Dvorak is never far from irresistible tunefulness. Martinu's melodic ideas are sinuous, insistent, chromatic, delicate, turned in on themselves, very expressive in a completely different way. But I found the performances which the Czech Philharmonic gave of this repertoire - Dvorak's Carnival Overture and the G major symphony No 8, and of Martinu's last symphony - were missing something else.

I found myself - probably alone in the audience - intently watching Sir John Eliot Gardiner's left hand. With the right holding the baton, the left delivers a range of different instructions. Sometimes the index finger points at a player or section to give an entry. Once I noticed an imitation of the left arm of a violinist or viola player, the gesture being to bring on more vibrato. Very occasionally the palm is opened, generously, to encourage a voice to emerge with a melody. But that typically doesn't last long,and it quickly returns to the default position, palm down. Sometimes it adopts the palm-down position suddenly, with the clear message "give me less" for the orchestra to play the next phrase quieter than the last one - that seemed to wrong-foot the players a few times. Gardiner's way seems to be to keep the players on a tight leash. The oboe's opening statement of the melody in the third movement of Dvorak 8, for example, was only allowed to exist as colouring, Gardiner scarcely giving the player the opportunity to have her voice heard.

But there were successes. Between the two intervals, Grieg's much-loved and evergreen piano concerto, with Lars Vogt a poetic, subtle soloist, had a clear sense of the work's narrative sweep. His underlining of the harmonic rhythm and his way of landing decisively at the base of the chord in the slower sections were completely persuasive. He also played Chopin C sharp minor Nocturne as an encore. It is a miracle how the Albert Hall magics itself into an intimate recital space. But it does. Bliss.

Of the orchestral works, Gardiner's approach worked best in a rarity, Jánaček's meditative Ballad of Blanik, only receiving its second performance at a Prom. The creation of discontinuity, instability and uncertainty carried this short work well and held the audience rapt. One may have one's reservations, but the signature encore, a boisterous reading of Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 1, sent all of us out into SW7, or possibly the Stare Mesto in Prague, very happy indeed.