THERE was a palpable frisson of excitement at Sage Gateshead, as Royal Northern Sinfonia prepared to make its first appearance before a live audience since lockdown.

For those privileged to be part of the socially-distanced sell-out event it was quite emotional, as it was for the players, who performed an all-Bach programme under the direction of Baroque specialist Rachel Podger

Greeted onstage with cheers, the orchestra opened fittingly with a short cantata Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret! – ‘Heaven laughs! Earth exults! first performed on Easter Sunday, in 1715.

Podger then gave an engaging precis of what to expect, relishing the “tangible buzz in the air”, as she connected not only with the audience, but with hundreds more watching a live stream from around the region and further afield.

The internationally-renowned artist ook delight in introducing us to the piccolo violin, borrowed specially from the Royal Academy of Music for the occasion.

Its sweet bright sound was used to brilliant effect in Brandenburg Concerto No 1 in F. The string players, for their part for part, had been encouraged to change their strings for gut, giving their performance an added authenticity.

The synergy between the players was complete, with brilliant sparring at one point between between the horns and oboes.

A highlight was an exquisite duet between oboist Henry Clay and Podger in the slow movement; enfolded by warm bass lines. The third movement exuded a sense of joy and optimism.

At the core of the programme was Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor. Podger made it her own, drawing out the subtleties of the first movement, while spinning a line of ineffable beauty in the Adagio, before zipping into a lithe final movement.

The evening was wrapped up with Bach’s Orchestral Suite No 3 in D Major. A spirited Ouverture was followed by an unhurried Air of ineffable beauty, while the changes of rhythm and tempo in the Gavottes, Bourrée and Gigue were nimble negotiated.

Showered with sustained applause, Podger played that beautiful Air one more time.

It was her first appearance at Sage Gateshead. We hope to see her back again soon.