Royal Northern Sinfonia’s chamber concert series at Sage Gateshead continued with a diverse programme of works entitled The French Connection. 

Camille Saint-Saens may be known to many through the thundering organ theme of his last symphony, used to such effect in the popular family film Babe. But he but could also turn out chamber works quite exquisite in their construction.

One such delightful composition is the Septet in E flat major, featuring an unusual combination of trumpet, piano, double bass and string quartet. There were great trumpet fanfares from Richard Martin, who also showed his instrument’s gentler side with mellifluous playing in the slow movement.

John Reid kept the momentum flowing with sparkling at the keyboard, while cellist Louisa Tuck, violist Michael Gerrard and violinists Kyra Humphreys and Iona Brown performed as an organic unit throughout.

The winds were given chance to shine in Andre Caplet’s Piano Quintet, with flautist Juliette Bausor, oboist Steven Hudson, clarinettist Timothy Orpen and bassoonist Stephen Reay each given their say. The winds entwined sinuously in the slow movement, while generating sumptuous colours in the passionate chorale. The ensemble negotiated the finale at a blistering pace.

Florent Schmitt’s Sonatine en trio for flute, clarinet and piano features four short contrasting movements. Bausor, Orpen and Reid revelled in dazzling exchanges, providing perfect palate cleanser before Faure’s meaty Piano Quartet.

The flowing lyricism of the first movement of the quartet was wonderfully conveyed. Cellist Louisa Tuck’s delivery of the mournful Adagio had an aching beauty - joined seamlessly by Humphreys and Gerrard and sensitively backed by Reid. The finale ended on a joyful note, leaving the audience fully sated.

Gavin Engelbrecht