ROYAL Northern Sinfonia, under the baton of Lars Vogt, enjoyed a sell-out opening night at Sage Gateshead, with a stunning all-Russian concert.

Proceedings began with Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, evoking vast grasslands and deserts with spacious lines. The plodding passage of camels of an eastern caravan were emulated by plucked strings, while the whole was infused with beautiful strains of Russian and Asiatic melodies. The piece ended with a glistening whisper of strings and note of gossamer lightness from flautist Amy Yule.

There were fireworks when Vogt took to the keyboard with Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no 2. It was written as a birthday present for the composer’s 19-year-old son, who had pestered his father for a work he could get to grips with as part of his studies. Vogt injected it with an infectious sense of fun; the orchestra anticipating his every inflexion in fiery exchanges, as the Allegro was driven to a heady climax.

The rich chords of the slow movement were tenderly shaped, before Vogt turned on a pin for a blistering last movement. Shostakovich, who had been nagging his son for neglecting his finger exercises, worked some of the scales into the final movement as a joke. Lars scored full marks as he hurtled through them.

The audience was treated to an encore in shape of the last movement of Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Trio. Cellist Steffan Morris and violinist Kyra Humphreys joined Vogt in an electrifying account.

The evening culminated with Tchaikovsky’s mighty Symphony No 6 ‘Pathetique’.

Bassoonist Stephen Reay set the stage with notes laden with portent, before Vogt laid out his stall with a steady deliberation, making each phrase count. The explosive chord of the first movement was brilliantly executed.

The march-like tempo of the third movement was driven to a triumphal finish, while the concluding movement exuded pathos as it heaved a final last breath and disappeared into the darkness. Vogt let the silence linger before a release of thunderous applause.