AS a first-time visitor to this relatively new venue, I couldn't help but be impressed by its sheer majesty.

In a prime position overlooking the Tyne, it's as spectacular inside as out, with breathtaking views. Apart from its growing reputation as a world-class music centre, it's definitely worth a visit for the building alone. On this snowy February night, however, what had drawn most people was the presence of conductor and pianist Howard Shelley. An internationally renowned performer, broadcaster and recording artist, he led Northern Sinfonia in works by Haydn and Mozart. While enjoyable enough, the opening symphony, Haydn's no.83 in G minor, 'La Poule', was a little short on dynamism. This was nothing to do with its execution - which was precise - more that it lacks a strong theme. In the second work, Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 21 in C, however, the orchestra really came into its own. The clever device of a Perspex screen enabled Shelley to be seen by those behind it while still projecting the piano's sound. He led the musicians confidently, seeming completely in control, while also performing. At times he was executing an intricate passage with one hand while conducting and page-turning with the other - a highly impressive feat. But what really made the evening sparkle was the quality of his playing - sensuous and deeply-felt, and always with the lightest touch.

Published: 22/02/2005