With the sounds of Brazil still ringing in our ears from the Rio Olympics, Marin Alsop continued the Latin American theme at the Proms by presenting us with a Brazilian orchestra, two Brazilian composers and a Venezuelan pianist. All this, mixed with music from a Russian great and one of the most well-known of all piano concertos, created the Proms equivalent of a closing ceremony.

Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra © BBC | Mark Allan
Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

First out of the starting blocks was the UK première of Kabbalah, a piece by the 77-year old Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre, whose influences include the likes of Debussy, Bartók and Lutoslawski. He has a musical style that combines new harmonic and rhythmic possibilities based on traditional Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra performed Kabbalah with purpose, whispering the hushed, mysterious opening before thrusting headlong into a rhythmic driving tempo with its regular pulse dictating all the movement around it. There were swirling gestures, jagged and irregular rhythms and passive, quieter moments. The orchestra was impressively animated and involved, with a terrific brass sound and an incisive percussion section complementing the aggressive strings in this dynamic music full of raw and primal instincts. Alsop's control was perfectly judged, giving the orchestra licence to let loose at key moments.

From the unfamiliar to the familiar, Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor was performed with grace and determination by accomplished Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, making her Proms debut. The opening movement erred more towards the Moderato than the Allegro, which suited the mood for the most part. Montero was lyrical and expressive throughout, with a wonderfully delicate touch in some of the more hushed passages but powerful and dominant when the music rose to emotional heights. She played with a fair degree of rubato, which, although skilfully done, seemed to be a little too frequent to give complete coherence. Nevertheless, this was a beautiful and majestic performance, with the orchestra also superb in all departments. There were lovely solos in the winds and brass, and the strings played crisply and with depth.

Montero often entertains her audiences by improvising on themes suggested by the audience. On this occasion she played an improvisation based on Land of Hope and Glory, which ended in lively fashion in a kind of ragtime jaunt. Impressive stuff. The Prommers may well have found themselves a new favourite.

Gabriela Montero, Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra © BBC | Mark Allan
Gabriela Montero, Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

In the second half, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos was represented in a performance of the Prelude from his Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4. The Bachianas Brasileiras suites are a rich collection of pieces, written to express the essence of Bach's music through Brazilian musical idioms, but the most astonishing fact is that this is the first time that any part of his Bachianas Brasileiras no. 4 has been performed at the Proms. Originally written for piano, it was orchestrated for strings only inh 1942. The superb string section of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) performed it with warmth, clarity and fluidity and with fine shaping from Alsop.

After the briefest of pauses, Alsop launched straight into Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. This was Rachmaninov's final composition, encapsulating his mature style with a plentiful supply of tone colours and orchestral variety while also reflecting his nostalgia for his native Russia. These facets were admirably captured by the wonderful sound of OSESP, with warm and bouncing strings and impressive brass, the horns in particular. Alsop maintained good momentum and shape throughout, although there was a slight lagging in one or two passages early on. The winds were particularly lucid and reflective in the first movement, and Alsop kept tight control as the pace picked up, with flamboyance and sharpness in all the right places. The waltz theme in the second movement had a lightness and sway that worked well, apart from a brief section where definition and clarity was sacrificed for a more sensuous but slightly homogenous sound. There were no such problems in the third movement, which was energetic and dramatic, with a wonderfully poised contemplative passage preceding the sweeping climax bringing Rachmaninov's valedictory work to a close in glorious fashion. Rachmaninov wrote from the heart, and it was very clear that the performance from Alsop and her orchestra was delivered in exactly the same vein.

Two encores closed this rich and varied concert, the first being an orchestral version of Villa-Lobos' Valsa da dor, and the second a frevoPé de Vento by Edu Lobo, perhaps looking ahead to the Late Night Prom at which more Brazilian treats were waiting to be savoured.