It's not surprising to see Stravinsky ballet suites at the Proms: after all, they're standard components of the orchestral repertoire even when they're not being danced. But yesterday's prom, I thought, was far more exciting than anything an orchestra could manage.

This was the 11am "Chamber Prom" at Cadogan Hall. Our appetiser was Simon Trpčeski playing Chopin Mazurkas and a selection of Mendelssohn Songs Without Words with elegance and delicacy, to be followed by the main course: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring played on two pianos by Ashley Wass and Simon Crawford-Phillips.

The Rite of Spring was a truly groundbreaking work - a composer pushing the envelope of what his audience could cope with. Its 1913 première degenerated into a fist fight between its supporters and those in the audience who couldn't quite deal with the idea of an African tribal sacrifice transported onto a genteel Paris stage. Stravinsky's music is of immense intensity: to get the raw, climactic, primitive energy, he uses every trick in the book, and a large number that weren't in the book at all. The most obvious are the insistent beating of tribal drums, the crashing discords, and, most of all, the polyrhythms: the listener's senses are overwhelmed by a swirl of different beats.

So, you might think, it's quite tricky to bring all this off on two pianos - no pounding timpani, no blaring brass and distant horns, no pizzicato strings or skirl of flutes. But it works. The real magic and power is in the notes, not in the orchestration, and Wass and Crawford-Phillips brought the music to life quite extraordinarily. Given that they were sitting six feet away from each other (preferring the two-piano arrangement to Stravinsky's other arrangement for one piano four-hands), their degree of togetherness was remarkable: in a few places, a hefty crescendo in several crossing rhythms from each player accelerates and then ends in a glissando and a dead stop. I fail to understand how the performers can manage to keep themselves together so well: personally, I couldn't even tap my feet to the rhythm because I was running out of limbs.

The repertoire has several highly colourful piano pieces which have also been orchestrated - the most obvious is Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I love the piano versions dearly: all the colour is there in the notes, and it makes my senses feel much more alive to listen and find them rather than being spoon-fed the material by the orchestration. Even though I'm a fan of live opera, I also love listening to Liszt's opera reminiscences, which seem to me to capture far more of the essence of opera than should be remotely feasible on a single piano.

I hope Wass and Crawford-Phillips do The Rite of Spring again: it deserves to be heard more often, and I can only see the piano version being played in one other place, at the Oxford Chamber Music Festival. There is also one curiosity to be found: Stravinsky did a pianola arrangement, which is being played in Cardiff in February (see details here). Yesterday's performance will stay in my memory for a long time.

1st September 2009