THE rising ascendancy of woman on classical concert halls stages was reaffirmed at Royal Northern Sinfonia’s latest Sage Gateshead concert. It featured a woman conductor, soloist and two female composers living 200 years apart.

The evening, under the baton of renowned Lithuanian conductor Giedrė Šlekytė, opened with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. Written as a musical love letter, it was Wagner’s combined Christmas and birthday gift to his wife Cosima. Šlekytė conveyed its delicacy and emotional tenderness with exquisite control.

At core of the programme was Brit Award winner Natalie Clein performing Saint-Saëns’ passionate Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor.

Having recorded the work and played it countless times, Clein is steeped in the music. She took nothing for granted, pouring her soul into an absorbing rendition and putting her stamp on it from its jaunty opening.

In the middle section, Clein lovingly drew out a yearning song, threading it through a lilting dance from the strings, before negotiating a thrilling roller coaster of emotions in a scorching molto allegro.

Showered with applause, Clein gave an an encore in the shape of Pau Casal’s showpiece Song of the Birds, which became a symbol of his yearning for his Catalan homeland. Clein took flight with an account of aching beauty.

The audience was then treated to a world premiere of composer Tansy Davies’ Plumes, written as one of number of encore pieces commissioned as part of RNS 60th anniversary. Davies took her inspiration from the view of the Tyne from Sage.

It opened with the lower strings evoking the murky depths of the river, as violins and woodwinds emulated its swirling undercurrents and plumes of the title. Like the river, the piece had an inexorable momentum, flowing glistening into the distance.

The focus then fell on the shamefully-neglected French composer Louise Farrenc. Her fiery Symphony No 3 may have some undertones of Schumann and Beethoven, but here was a composer with her own distinctive voice.

Šlekytė made a strong case for the work, which included a wonderful passage from clarinettist James Burke over a gentle timpani at the opening of the slow movement. The woodwinds shone in a colourful and stormy allegro.

Clein returned for a post-concert Spotlight performance, casting her spell anew with JS Bach’s Cello Suite in G major and Pēteris Vasks spiritual ‘Pianissimo’ from Das Buch. The latter held the audience mesmerised with its fluttering high harmonics and ending with a wisp of a note floating ethereally into the cosmos.