My deep love of Prokofiev is something I owe to the Proms.
It was in 1966 that I stood in the front row of the Arena and heard the magical Third Piano Concerto for the first time.
Marta Argerich was the soloist, in Sir Malcolm Sargent’s last-ever Prom. And five years earlier a television relay of Moura Lympany playing the First Concerto (Sargent again) had me enthralled.
That same concerto was one of the many highlights in Saturday’s CBSO Prom, Canadian pianist Louis Lortie delivering an account of steely-fingered clarity, toccata-like brilliance and, where appropriate, elegance of line – rather like the technique of the composer himself.
Under the occasionally ungainly but always effective baton of Thomas Ades the orchestra was a fleet, affectionate foil in a performance which had the audience (including a coachload of CBSO supporters’ club members down from headquarters) responding with tremendous enthusiasm.
This almost entirely Russian programme began and ended with well-loved music from Russian opera, both works incidentally left incomplete at the deaths of their respective composers.
Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain was given with the rarely-heard choral interjections, gleefully projected with biting Russian diction by the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus. John Tomlinson conveyed all the tormented anguish of the usurping Tsar in excerpts from Boris Godunov, his body-language communicating effectively across the vast spaces of this puny acoustic.
But we moved away from Russia for the evening’s centrepiece (literally, with comfortable flanking intervals), Ades’ recent Tevot. Substantial and colourful, this proved a wonderful orchestral display-vehicle, the composer welding elements which recall Britten, Shostakovich and some Americans into a confident language of his own.
The CBSC returned for Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, aching with nostalgia, and whirling to a vibrant, thrilling conclusion.