AN audience packed into Sage Gateshead for Royal Northern Sinfonia’s latest concert, undeterred by the coronavirus outbreak, though the soloist billed for the night had to cancel at the 11th hour becauses of a scare.

Just before her scheduled rehearsal with RNS, pianist Gabriela Montero found out she had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive with the virus. Thankfully Montero’s subsequent test proved negative.

Stepping into the breach at short notice to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no 1 was the young and dynamic German pianist Frank Dupree.

He gave a fresh and life-affirming rendition of the centrepiece of the programme. The opening chords were emphatic and assured and he soon developed a rapport with sinfonia.

Conductor Alexandre Bloch deftly integrated the orchestral forces into a seamless single sound tapestry. Dupree’s extended cadenza at the end of the first movement had the audience transfixed.

The second movement was introduced with wonderfully poised playing by flautist Daniel Pailthorpe, before Dupree took up the refrain with playing of ineffable delicacy. In the last movement, the tricky synchronization with orchestra during the piano scales was carried off with aplomb, with a blistering dash to the finishing line. The applause was rapturous, sustained and well-deserved.

The evening opened with Edward Grieg’s Norwegian Dances. The orchestra scampered through the joyful opening movement, while the standout moment in the second was a passionate melody from oboist Steven Hudson. The dynamic range of the orchestra was well caught in the final two dances.

The programme was rounded off with Stravinsky’s Symphony in C. The rich detail of the first movement was laid in all its bold glory, while the Larghetto featured a magical blend of playing by winds and strings. The finale moved from the frenetic to the humorous, before gently receding with a final shimmer from the strings.

For an encore Bloch returned to Grieg, giving a comic musical lesson in handwashing, followed by a galumphing account of elephants in Stravinsky’s Circus Polka. The concert went a long way to lifting spirits in uncertain times.

Gavin Engelbrecht