For once, the musical menu was a good deal more sultry than the temperatures in the Royal Albert Hall as the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic made a notable debut. Still in its infancy as an orchestra (it was only founded in 2000), it becomes the first Turkish orchestra to play at the Proms and did so with youthful enthusiasm in a programme full of what Rudyard Kipling may well have described as “more-than-oriental splendour”.

Sasha Goetzel © Chris Christodoulou
Sasha Goetzel
© Chris Christodoulou

Lyapunov’s orchestration of Balakirev’s virtuosic piano showpiece Islamey has only been performed once before at the Proms – and that just happened to be my very first Prom concert, back in dim and distant 1990. Its glittering orchestration and whirling dervish rhythms took a while to catch fire this time round. Sascha Goetzel, principal conductor, has a flamboyant, histrionic style, which didn’t immediately transfer itself to the performance. He drew expansive playing of the central theme – warmly played by a string section of predominantly female players – but ideally, Islamey needs a greater sense of momentum.

Holst’s Beni Mora, drawing inspiration from the time the composer spent in Algeria, was far more successful, tapping col legno strings a precursor of “Mars” from The Planets, which followed a few years later. The most remarkable movement is the finale, subtitled “In the Street of Ouled Naïls” where Bedouin dancing girls hypnotically entertain their clients. A four-bar phrase is repeatedly played (41 times – mostly on the flute), as the percussion whipped up excitement aplenty.

Amidst these exotic sweetmeats, the world première of Gabriel Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto sat rather awkwardly. Subtitled “1914” it was composed at the instigation of Daniel Hope, the assured soloist. The work is a diary of events from the year the First World War broke out. A whispered opening of pianissimo snare rolls and tremolando strings gives way to a spiky march theme – a chip off grandfather Sergei’s block? – which then splutters and fractures in a percussive battery assault. Despite some furious passagework, magnetically played by Hope, the violin never entirely felt centre-stage. A pile-up of ostinatos – including a deviously tricky one for triangle – created a mechanistic second movement, which ends with the violin representing the Tsar “blithely playing war games from his comfortable study”. From the trenches at night to microtonal slides to represent gas sirens in the fourth movement, the descent into the horror of war continues. The concerto ends with another long tremolando, this time for soloist alone. Prokofiev possibly spins out his material too much, but there was plenty to excite, especially in the maestoso second movement.

The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra © Chris Christodoulou
The Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra
© Chris Christodoulou

After the interval, there was a classical nod towards orientalism in the form of Mozart’s overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), complete with alla turca Janissary style percussion interjections. Goetzel then launched a scaled-down orchestra in Handel’s bustling Arrival of the Queen of Sheba before leaving the platform to allow the players to take command, which they did with a good deal of style.

Handel acted as curtain raiser to Ottorino Respighi’s orchestral suite from his ballet Belkis, Queen of Sheba – another Proms debutante. Where Handel is prim and dainty, Respighi paints an exotic score in eye-popping Technicolor worthy of Hollywood. If the Borusan brass didn’t always rise to the occasion, the percussion department certainly did, in its full Cecil B de Mille glory. From the beguiling drum ostinato in “Belkis’ Dance at Dawn” to the delicately wafted hand regulating the decay from glockenspiel chimes, everything was vividly coloured. And they didn’t stint in the volume stakes either: pounding bass drum rhythms to accompany the squealing E flat clarinet in the “Warlike Dance” were exceeded in the decibel count by an orgiastic percussive explosion in the finale. A post-coital cigarette should have been called for, but instead Goetzel gave a short speech, declaring that “music has no borders” before a Turkish encore (Köçekçe) whisked us off towards the Bosphorus.