This Prom drew to a close a trio of concerts by extremely talented Scottish musicians performing a mini series of Tchaikovsky concerti and Stravinsky ballets. On Friday night, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Dausgaard delighted and thrilled with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and Stravinsky's Petrushka. This was followed on Sunday afternoon by an inspired concert by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland (reviewed in Glasgow), performing Tchaikovsky's lesser know Second Piano Concerto and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. The stage was therefore set for the BBC SO's second prom, featuring Tchaikovsky's much-loved First Piano Concerto and the most famous – and indeed notorious – of all Stravinsky's works, The Rite of Spring, to bring this trilogy of concerts to a close. There was an air of expectancy in the Royal Albert Hall, which was packed with a capacity crowd, including many of the musicians from the earlier prom, excited to hear their older, professional role models.

Thomas Dausgaard © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Thomas Dausgaard
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

In an interesting bit of programming with The Rite of Spring, the BBC SSO began their concert with Prokofiev's Scythian Suite, a work also commissioned by Diaghilev following on from Stravinsky's composition two years earlier. However, the ballet itself was never completed and Prokofiev transformed his score into a suite for a large orchestra. While the Scythian Suite is not quite as dramatic as Stravinsky's more famous work, it does not fall much short, employing a large brass section, which is used to unleash the orchestra's full power. Dausgaard and the BBC SSO did not hold back, filling the Albert Hall with a truly thrilling sound. There were more tender moments to enjoy too, particularly in the third movement, which featured a translucent texture of high strings, woodwind and harp. This was effectively produced in a rather haunting way by the orchestra, with a sense of unease and nervous tension never far away.

In a respite from the primeval ballet music, we indulged in a performance of the great Romantic warhorse, Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, under the dexterous fingers of Russian born pianist Kirill Gerstein. In most performances, we are used to hearing the second or third revised edition of this work, but instead, we heard the less familiar first revised edition of 1879, a version which is very much championed by Gerstein and which received its Prom's debut at this evening's concert. Gerstein looked very comfortable on stage. Particularly striking is how close the pianist was sitting to the prommers standing in the front row of the arena. I felt envious of those audience members, who were able to enjoy Gerstein's flawless technique at extremely close quarters. He navigated his way through Tchaikovsky's score with a great sense of easy and fluidity, every subtle nuance emerging organically from the previous one in perfect harmony with the orchestra, who like the soloist, enjoying revelling in the grand, swooping melodies of Tchaikovsky's masterwork. The string section was particularly impressive throughout, producing a deep, rich, singing tone. There were some wonderful solos too, most notably by the principal cellist Martin Storey in the slow movement. Following on from this performance, as if there was not enough virtuosity already in Tchaikovsky's concerto, Gerstein treated us to a masterful performance of Eroica, one of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes as an encore. 

Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Dausgaard and the BBCSSO © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Dausgaard and the BBCSSO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

After the interval, we returned to the primal, earthy soundworld with which the concert had begun, and the highly anticipated conclusion of the trilogy of Stravinky's ballet music. The first performance of The Rite of Spring in 1913 in Paris famously caused a riot to break out. How different the atmosphere was 103 years later – from the opening bassoon solo, thousands of people in the Royal Albert Hall were dead silent, transfixed both by this work's charm and sheer power. Indeed this performance was a triumph from start to finish. The work is often like an unstoppable force of nature. Dausgaard and the BBC SSO breathed life into the music, unleashing the monster from its cage, allowing it to break free. It was a hugely exciting performance, full of raw energy, always on the edge but never out of control. The conductor and orchestra wound their way through the ever changing irregular rhythms and time signatures deftly and precisely. Every section of the orchestra impressed; the horn calls were terrifying, while the trumpets pierced through the texture with ecstatic energy, underpinned by the sacrificial warlike motifs from the percussion. The woodwind and strings shone at the beginning of the second part with an etheral mysticism, before eventually the full orchestra took hold, propelling the music towards its inexorable conclusion and thoroughly deserved large cheers from the audience. A fitting way to bring to a close a magical weekend of music from musicians north of the border.