It was heartening to see the auditorium packed on Wednesday, for whatever reason: the star-billing of violinist Nicola Benedetti, the return to the CBSO podium of Lahav Shani, one of the runners in the MD stakes, or just a juicily attractive programme? No matter.
Benedetti was here for the first episode in the orchestra's survey of both Szymanowski Violin Concertos (perversely, here we were hearing the Second; the First comes on February 4, Baiba Skride playing).
Her bright-toned Strad weaved a sweetly melancholic thread, allied to biting bow-work which reinforced the music's strong similarities to the two violin concertos of Prokofiev. She even managed a squinge of discreet re-tuning during the impressive central cadenza before moving towards the wonderfully exhilarating ending. After this her encore (the Sarabande from Bach's D minor Partita) grounded us perfectly.
Shani drew sumptuous sounds from the CBSO, an orchestra well versed in Szymanowski, thanks to the long-term advocacy of Sir Simon Rattle.
We had begun with the music of another Rattle protege, Haydn, no less, and his Symphony no.92. Its nickname "the Oxford" alerts the listener to its many learned winks and nudges, but all the time it fizzes with energy, and charms with smiling melodies.
And this was the root of a small problem. Shani's reading was top-line driven, texture taking second place. A pity, because the strings were on fire and the woodwinds sparkled, and this could actually have been a very fine performance (good to hear "period" timpani, too).
The problem became greater in Brahms' Fourth Symphony, a mighty, sturdy work which is built, like Beethoven, from its bass line upwards, and in this reading we sensed no real cultivation of the nether regions.
Shani's deep musicianship (telling responses to shifts in tonality and structure) is undeniable, but perhaps communication and interaction between himself and his players could have been more discernible. As it was, the CBSO played wonderfully -- will I ever stop praising solos from Marie-Christine Zupancic's flute? -- but, one suspects, of its own accord.