The CBSO have a wonderful ritual whenever their beloved music director Andris Nelsons conducts them. At the end of a concert they refuse to stand at his exhortation, remaining instead firmly in their seats as they applaud him with warmth, gratitude and affection.
Last Wednesday Dutch conductor Jac van Steen was granted a similar accolade from the players at the end of a remarkable programme of early 20th-century music featuring a huge orchestra. Listeners to the live BBC Radio-3 broadcast will have missed this touching visual but will certainly have enjoyed what they heard. Thanks to the Rattle days the CBSO have Mahler's Seventh Symphony (certainly his most difficult to bring off) firmly under their fingers, and this performance was yet another marvellous one to add to the list.
Less manic than what we remember from the old days, this was almost neo-classical in its approach, van Steen's tight, crisp, elegant conducting giving a sense of lift to phrasing and drawing incisive lines, all the while relishing the fabulous natural acoustic of the hall. Even shrilling woodwind exuberance, cowbells and church bells, mandolin and guitar were comfortably accommodated.
And how good it was to hear Elspeth Dutch back at the helm of the horn section, with that famous solo (remember the TV ad for motor oil?) in the second movement so stentorianly delivered.
Composed just a few years later, Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces are clearly post-Mahlerian (such nocturnal explorations) but also herald an imminent collapse of bloated post-Romanticism.
Jac van Steen secured an exhilaratingly kaleidoscopic account from these expert players. Particularly memorable was the pointed phrasing of the cellos, and the gutsy playing of an assistant timpanist.