If there was any guiding principle behind the BBC Philharmonic’s Prom under its chief guest conductor John Storgårds, it was in reminding us of the changing tastes in programming over the years. With the repertoire divided between a Nordic first half and a German second, the concert’s five works included some that one supposed were being done all the time. But as the ‘Previously at the Proms’ notes in the printed programme reveal, Sibelius’ Karelia Suite has only been heard in full three times since the war, while his seemingly much rarer vocal tone poem Luonnotar has had more than double the number of outings. (Luonnotar was first heard at the Proms in 1934, alongside Sibelius’ Karelia Overture, Pohjola’s Daughter and the First and Seventh symphonies – and that was just the concert’s first half.) Similarly with Grieg’s Peer Gynt; movements crop up regularly as encores but the once popular suites have been neglected, though the whole score was memorably presented by Swedish forces in 2001.

Lise Davidsen © Charlotte Gundersen
Lise Davidsen
© Charlotte Gundersen

To open his programme, Storgårds eschewed the Peer Gynt suites for his own selection of five movements from the full theatre score, beginning with the rumbustious “At the Wedding”, complete with cod Hardanger fiddle-riffing from principal violist Steven Burnard, and ending not with “The Hall of the Mountain King” but with the exotically grotesque “Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter”. But the undoubted highlight was “Solveig’s Song” sung by Lise Davidsen in her Proms debut. This young Norwegian soprano, who has been leaving Glyndebourne audiences grasping for superlatives all summer as Strauss’ Ariadne, reined in her voluminous voice for a touching account of the plaint from Peer’s abandoned sweetheart.

Davidsen’s dynamic and dramatic range was given much greater freedom in Luonnotar, and she made the most if it in what must count as about the most compelling nine minutes of my musical year so far. With Storgårds emphasising the desolation and other-worldliness of the Sibelian orchestral soundscape, her keening projection of the text was grippingly intense, culminating in soaring, awe-inspiring cries of “Ei” (No) at the work’s climax, as the gull in this Finnish myth of creation seeks somewhere to lay the egg that will shatter to form the heavens. A star was born in more than one sense.

After this, the Karelia Suite brought a surging of rhythmic energy with the BBC Philharmonic players revelling in the music’s bright colours, but Storgårds allowed the more meditative moments of the central Ballade to linger just a little too long, though Tom Davey’s cor anglais solo brought suavity.

After the interval came two German works, neither of them core repertoire in general concert life, perhaps, but occasional visitors to the Proms. Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor deals successfully with the eternal problem of making this particular solo instrument sing through and above the orchestra by keeping the accompaniment very much in the background when it is playing. This enabled cellist Alban Gerhardt to project a surprisingly intimate reading of the solo part into the vast void of the Royal Albert Hall. His interpretation was warmly Romantic and not lacking in energy and ardour, despite being frequently hampered by a cello spike that refused to keep wedded to its notch in the platform.

This year’s Reformation anniversary has resulted in renewed interest in Hindemith’s opera Mathis der Maler, which is set against the religious upheaval of Luther’s revolution 500 years ago. The symphony that the composer cast from the opera’s material made a welcome finale for this wide-ranging programme, with the orchestra finding new reserves of bite for its rhythmic energy and richness for its textural eloquence, capturing both its visionary and Expressionist extremes.