And so the SCO continues this mini-series of themed concerts: last week we were given Paris Masterworks; tonight Italy was the focus. Opening was Respighi's delightful Trittico botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych) - exquisitely conceived pieces inspired by three of the great Renaissance artist's best-known works. The first, Spring, saw shimmering string figures give way to earthier refrains and lilting rhythms, all uniting to create a suitably uplifting mood. The hymn-like Adoration of the Magi that followed featured lovely solo contributions from the wind section, as did the closing piece in this suite - The Birth Of Venus, where mellifluous flute and clarinet lines dovetailed to enchanting effect.
Our second Respighi offering was Il Tramonto - an evocative setting of Shelley's poem The Sunset. It brought to the stage mezzo soprano Renata Pokupic, who, with the orchestra's sympathetic accompaniment, produced a mesmerising performance of extraordinary beauty and control. She returned to light up the room in the second half with a virtuosic rendition of the Recitative and Aria: "Oh patria!...Tu che ascendi...Di tanti palpiti" from Rossini's Tancredi.
To close was Menotti's fascinating Suite from Sebastian - a work of variety and colour where, under conductor Enrique Mazzola's energetic direction, the orchestra finally got to show its true mettle.
The players revelled in a heady brew of textures and styles, expertly juxtaposing childlike melodies, twisted Stravinskian harmonies, bluesy brass figures and lustrous cinematic panoramas to provide a stirring, inspiring conclusion to the evening.