The BBC Philharmonic under Juanjo Mena brought what was, alongside Petrushka of a fortnight ago, the closest thing to a daring twentieth-century programme in the City Hall's current season.
The 'selections from' the Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet were presumably Mena's own choices, rather than one of the officially sanctioned suites. A generally upbeat set, it finished with the (very well executed) flurry that is the death of Tybalt, sparing us the intensities of the ballet's denouement.
Having said that, the music for the Prince giving his orders in Act 1, one of the ballet's more experimental moments, was used as a brooding introduction in which the orchestra pulled off some dazzling textural effects. It was a stunning opening, which in fact seemed to promise an altogether different sort of suite.
Mena whipped up some energetic, belligerent playing from the orchestra consistently all evening. At times it was in danger of being too business like: Prokofiev's famous Dance of the Knights breezed past with no trace of the pesante marking, and later in Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, the beautiful brass chorale in the 2nd movement was completely glossed over.
Stephen Hough's suave, eloquent reading of Liszt's First Piano Concerto was the most resounding success of the evening.
Fans of this music, so fitful and episodic, would have felt in safe hands as Hough made light of the technical demands, but wasn't afraid to get muscular when a huge sound was called for.
It was a compelling exploration of Hough's impressive expressive range, and the dynamic between him and Mena was most engaging, leading to a fairly spectacular big finish.
The Bartók, like much of the Prokofiev, showcased some fine individual performances from the wind and brass, and the tightness of the ensemble. Perhaps most impressive of all was the orchestra's rich colour palette in the central slow movement.