Thursday night’s BBC Proms was a celebration of Sibelius, Bartók and Janáček, composers who mastered the classical music tradition and put their home countries on the map.

© BBC / Chris Christodoulou
© BBC / Chris Christodoulou

Summoning images of the Finnish countryside, Scènes historiques, Suite No. 2 displayed a range of orchestral colours. In each of three movements, the Hallé Orchestra produced a full-bodied sound with various melodies reverberating underneath. Soft timpani summoned a long, dramatic crescendo, a mix of flutes and clarinets alongside pizzacato chords signaled a playful, pastoral feel and rapid harp glissandos beckoned a warm conclusion. Although Scènes historiques, Suite No. 2 can stand outside programmatic elements, the crisp sound of Hallé Orchestra made the provincial imagery hard to ignore.

Using the metaphor of a river in Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105, Sibelius crafted an organic, through-composed piece meant to reflect the steady lull of a river rolling out to sea. And not unlike a river, the Hallé Orchestra swelled as the music rose and fall, making the piece atmospheric throughout. From the tonal build-up in the beginning to the prolonged resolution at the end, the Hallé Orchestra, led by the prestigious conductor Sir Mark Elder, perfectly captured a river winding through the Finnish countryside.

After the interval, audiences were surprised by Bartók’s Piano Concert No. 3. Very different from Bartók’s typical atonal and experimental style, this piano concerto, executed brilliantly by András Schiff, was both thrilling and tranquil. The first movement of the concerto was fairly straightforward, organized around the development of two themes, the second of which was playful and syncopated. But the second movement slowed to a dramatic halt. With a religioso quality, the call and response between Shiff on piano and the rest of the orchestra was reminiscent of a church service.

It was throughout the third and final movement of the concerto that Schiff really shone. Although it was hard to see Schiff’s fingers, from my vantage point it looked like he was attacking the keyboard head on, belting out the fast-paced rhythms that defined this last movement. Having blown the audience away with his furious ivory tickling, Schiff played a Hungarian melody as an encore, a clever nod to Bartók’s Hungarian roots.

Last was Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Originally written for a gymnastics festival, this piece was chock-full of enthusiasm. But that’s not to say it was bombastic throughout. After opening the piece with a blast of trumpets and timpani, the third movement featured a Maestoso melody very unlike the pompous opening. But the march-like themes returned in the fourth movement and at the end, woodwinds, percussion, brass and strings all combined to create a crashing amalgamation of sound. Janáček’s entire Sinfonietta was a mix of blazing patriotism and curious musical flair.