Proms diary: the RSNO performs Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and a world premiere

Nikolai Lugansky
BBC Music Magazine

By Elizabeth Davis

Conductor Peter Oundjian makes Proms debut

Conductor Peter Oundjian had a dream programme for his Proms debut – Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3, with one of the best soloists in the business, Nikolai Lugansky, and Tchaikovsky's dramatic Fifth Symphony. The evening opened, though, with a new work – and a BBC commission: Naresh Sohal's The Cosmic Dance.

The piece took as its focus the creation of the universe. Sohal started out studying physics as an undergraduate at Punjab University, and writes in the programme that the work is inspired both by the scientific theories about the Big Bang and the Hymn of Creation from the ancient collection of Hindu hymns, the Rig Veda. The work is divided into seven sections, the first being 'Unmanifest' followed by 'Big Bang and Aftermath' through to 'Moon' and 'Earth'.

The trouble is, though, that he says nothing new. Enough composers have written music inspired by space and the solar system for there to be a stock library of clichés by now, and they're all in attendance here – from the use of thunder sheets to a reliance on a wind machine to describe the void of a black hole.

At times the work felt more like a soundtrack for an 1980s sci-fi film than a reflection on the origins of existence.

For music that delighted both the senses and the mind, we had two Russian masterpieces. Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 was breathtaking in the hands of Nikolai Lugansky, a pianist with an instinctive feel for the composer's music. The cadenzas were astounding but he clearly also enjoyed working as one of the orchestra. He thoroughly deserved his three curtain calls from a packed-out Royal Albert Hall (many of whom came only to see the concerto - there were empty seats during the Sohal and, afterwards, for the Tchaikovsky).

After the second interval (yes, second), the orchestra turned to Tchaikovsky's Fifth – and what a performance. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra's brass were full of energy and Oundjian drove the work with a thrilling intensity. This Proms cycle of Tchaikovsky symphonies is proving to be one of the unsung triumphs of the 2013 season. After an unexpectedly earth-bound start, it was the Russians that finally gave this Prom lift off. Catch it on iPlayer while you can.