You would imagine that Leonard Bernstein would have been a regular at the BBC Proms. He was a natural communicator and educator, delighting in bringing classical music to new audiences. Yet Bernstein – born one hundred years ago this week – only conducted at this festival twice. The Mozart—Mahler programme of his first Prom, with the Vienna Philharmonic in September 1987, was repeated last night, Thomas Dausgaard leading the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Wisely, Dausgaard didn't try to replicate Bernstein's interpretations – when it comes to Mahler, Lenny left big shoes to fill – but his Fifth was satisfyingly robust.

Annelien Van Wauwe © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Annelien Van Wauwe
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Nobody was a greater advocate for Mahler than Bernstein. He was even buried with a score to the Fifth Symphony. Bernstein's DG recording, made with the Vienna Phil just days after that 1987 Prom, is still regarded as a classic, luxuriantly long-breathed, yet passionately thrilling. Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish thrilled in a different way, navigating a swift course – a good eight minutes faster than Bernstein's 75 – on a journey that was not without its occasional mishaps. Mahler assigns perilous solos to the first trumpet, who unfortunately didn't escape unscathed. The opening funeral march set off at quite a lick, ushered along speedily. Dausgaard launched the stormy second movement so urgently that one wondered if the orchestra was booked on the sleeper from Kings Cross back to Edinburgh. Left-hand tremolando apart, Dausgaard's conducting style is quite balletic, yet refusing to milk the big moments.

The strings of the BBC Scottish weren't overly opulent and the double basses seemed a tad anonymous, tucked away without risers, but this was a reading which emphasised the rugged, almost schizophrenic nature of the score. The Scherzo was earthy, strings digging in to give the rustic feel of a Ländler before it dissolves into Mahler's parody of a Viennese waltz. Golden-toned principal horn, Alberto Menéndez Escribano, played this movement superbly, standing beside his section as if performing a concerto. The Adagietto had the rapt intensity worthy of this love-song to Mahler's beloved wife, Alma, Dausgaard always maintaining the music's inner pulse, although he pulled back the tempo dramatically at the reprise, strings cloaked in gauze. The Rondo saw the expedition continue apace, although we were permitted the occasional pause to stop and sniff flowers in the Mahlerian meadow before the trombone-led coda boisterously romped to the finish line.

Tempi were just as swift, although less convincing, in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major before the interval. Where Bernstein had Vienna Philharmonic principal, Peter Schmidl, the Proms invited Belgian clarinettist Annalien Van Wauwe as soloist. A former pupil of Sabine Meyer, she dispatched the outer movements at similar speeds, although her tone is very different to her teacher's. Despite a lithe, clean top, Van Wauwe's basset clarinet sounded pale in its lowest register, lacking rich chocolate chalumeau notes. She took the Adagio curiously fast, clipped, impatient, its flowery ornaments in the recapitulation operatic, which detracted from Mozart's purity of line. Dausgaard hung onto her every phrase but Van Wauwe's is an interpretation that needs time and breathing space to blossom.

***11