An 'immense glow and sumptuousness' were the words that Richard Strauss, aged just twenty-four, chose to describe the sound at the première of his tone poem, Don Juan, in 1889. 122 years later another young conductor found similar qualities with his orchestra. Andris Nelsons, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's artistic director since 2008, has obviously fostered a relationship that works tremendously well. He has the perfect podium formula: a crystal clear technique is complemented by an original and poetic range of gestures, both of which the allow the CBSO to move with confidence and imagination. And the orchestra could not have sounded better, combining world-class solo playing with a sense of ensemble distinguished by its stamina, commitment, and glorious sound.

© BBC / Timothy Greenfield Sanders
© BBC / Timothy Greenfield Sanders

Midori made her second Proms appearance in Walton's violin concerto, her début having been eighteen years earlier. Written in 1938-9, it is a work inspired by Italy: Walton had first visited the country when he was eighteen and subsequently convalesced in Ravello whilst writing this concerto. Midori's approach was certainly fleet-footed, as she readily cornered each challenging passage in this changeable score. However, the tone was often forced, particularly in the lower register when she was looking for more sound. The result was too much of the wrong type of grit, with a line that failed to carry in the more thickly orchestrated moments, and lacked the capricious contrasts from bel canto lyricism to Walton's ironic witticisms.

The central work in the programme was Prokofiev's cantata, Alexander Nevsky, music primarily taken from his score for Eisenstein's film. It was Eisenstein's first sound film, created in 1938 against the backdrop of Stalin's terrors. Owing to the condemnatory reception of his previous work, Bezhin Meadow, and given that several of his colleagues had recently been arrested by the secret police, Eisenstein knew that this time he had to fulfil the objectives of Socialist Realism. This aesthetic was one that demanded, in the loosest of definitions, an underwriting of the current political status quo. As such, Alexander Nevsky is a transparent allegory of Russian strength in the face of a foreign force (Hitler's Germany): the medieval prince Novgorod (nicknamed Nevsky) repels both Swedish and Teutonic invaders.

Unsurprisingly then, Prokofiev's score is earthy and full, and – especially without its visual counterpart – risks becoming overly weighty. The solution proposed by Neslons and seconded by the CBSO and its chorus was to charge the cantata with unstinting energy. Mezzo-soprano, Nadezhda Serdiuk, lent her evocatively rich tones to the sixth movement (The Field of the Dead), and the CBSO Chorus sang with conviction and character.

To frame such a muscular programme with Strauss' tone-poems is a tall order, particularly when the standard set at the beginning was so high. The Dance of the Seven Veils, a condensed narrative of his opera Salome – based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name – offered the orchestra a high-octane (programmed) encore, once again demonstrating their vitality and immediacy of response.

After a performance such as this, to call the CBSO a provincial orchestra would merely be semantic, for their performance was enviable in every way, positioning themselves as equals (if not, in some ways, leaders) to their cosmopolitan counterparts. Birmingham should be proud.