Suave, silky and sensuous accounts encapsulated Saturday’s Prom, in an evening marked more by refinement of execution than adrenaline-fuelled excitement. Maybe a first half of gentle Fauré and undemonstrative Mozart, with its lack of ebullience, created the evening's sense of restraint. And if the mood was more intimate than extrovert, then Alain Altinoglu (making his Proms debut) drew meticulously prepared accounts from the combined forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the City of London Choir. It was all very neatly packaged, yet somehow never quite built to anything that left a lasting impression or made the earth move.

Alain Altinoglu © Marco Borggreve
Alain Altinoglu
© Marco Borggreve

Fauré’s Pavane makes a fine appetiser but it is little more than that – even the composer described it as "elegant, but not otherwise important”. It was, however, an account of rare sensitivity, its delicate fabric initiated by eloquent flute and oboe exchanges that did much to justify the continuing presence of this appealing amuse-bouche in concert programmes. Whether or not Robert de Montesquiou’s poetic verses add anything significant to the original, the combined choirs responded with smooth-as-butter singing that brought its own special dividends. Gallic charm and polish were there in spades.

Equally polished was the account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 in B flat major – the composer’s last essay in the genre as well as his last appearance in public as a pianist. Here, the work’s limpid beauty and structural outline was flawlessly articulated by Francesco Piemontesi. His subtlety of colouring and firm, silky tone confirms this Swiss pianist as a Mozartian to his fingertips. His understated approach fitted this concerto like a glove, as did his delightful elaborations during the first movement cadenza, and his poetic touches in the central Larghetto. The finale was a well-behaved affair (too much so at times) which, despite perky woodwind playing and a suspenseful cadenza, never reached a level of inspiration that would make this a truly memorable rendition. As if to match the autumnal glow of Mozart’s farewell to the piano concerto, Piemontesi then gave the first of Brahms’ Op.117 Intermezzi – a trio of late works whose fireside warmth was fully integrated into this hall-stilling encore.

Next up was Daphnis et Chloé, Ravel’s large-scale symphonie chorégraphique written for Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes and completed in 1912. This performance had much to admire; there was well-balanced playing and many finely executed solos, most notably from Emer McDonough’s exquisite flute contribution in the “Pantomime”, seducing with impeccable tone and a certain plasticity of phrasing. The chorus were well-drilled and responded to this interpretation with ecstatic fervour, but more often ethereal rather than impassioned. Overall, there was something a little too safe, even clinical and controlled about this account – not short of mystery nor sensuousness but its wildness felt tamed and the supposedly fiery “Danse guerrière” lacked drama and felt as if Altinoglu had imposed on it a restraining order. Similarly underwhelming was the concluding “Danse Générale”, its bacchanale resolutely sober and underlined a performance of expressive poise rather than of unrestrained passion.