LIKE old friends meeting again after a long absence, Royal Northern Sinfonia and former musical director Thomas Zehetmair picked up on their close relationship as though they had never parted when they performed at Sage Gateshead.

Conductor Laureate Zehetmair presented a programme taking in a broad spectrum of music, showcasing two very different approaches to symphonic form, from a ten-minute work by Webern to Schubert's majestic 'The Great'.

Webern's miniature Symphony, distilling music to its barest necessities, was laid out with precision and care in a luminescent account.

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Stepping back in time, CPE Bach bridged the Baroque age of his father JS and the Classical era with a revolutionary style, exemplified in his Oboe Concerto.

Principal oboist Steven Hudson stepped from ranks to give a scintillating rendition of the work, with a lyrical and uplifting outer movements. The plaintive song of the slow movement was delivered with long organically flowing lines.

Mahler’s Adagietto from Symphony No 5 is familiar to many as the theme tune of the film Death in Venice. The strings welled up from nowhere in an ethereal opening, their blossoming lines underpinned by warm chords from the harp. Zehetmair moulded a wonderful account that resolved in a serene calm, with the last moments of silence allowed to linger.

The evening was crowned with Schubert’s expansive Symphony No 9, which is known as The Great for good reason. It is a stamina-sapping test of any orchestra' mettle, lasting close to an hour.

After a gentle opening, heralded by the horns, Zehetmair gradually ratcheted up the tension and set a blistering pace throughout. The steadily mounting waves of the finale were driven to an exhilarating climax.

Zehetmair was clearly touched by the audience's applause, and delighted to be reacquainted with the RNS.