This brilliantly conceived programme placed Strauss' mighty *Alpine Symphony* alongside an immersive Mozart Notturno and the UK première of Georg Friedrich Haas' Concerto grosso no. 1 for 4 Alphorns and Orchestra. Thanks to a particularly boring half hour sitting on a motionless train, I only made it for the second half of the programme, in which Ilan Volkov led a pleasantly spritely march up and down Strauss' mountain, but the radio broadcast gave the symphony some fascinating context.

Ilan Volkov © Astrid Ackermann
Ilan Volkov
© Astrid Ackermann

The fifty-minute Nietzschean hymn to nature tiptoed in and out of earshot in the softest darkness imaginable from the low brass, representing the rise and fall of the sun at either end of the work. The early phases of the ascent had the air of an affable family outing, with a great deal of warmth as the walkers briskly marched upwards past the myriad landscapes depicted in the music. The most vivid was the passing hunting party, a brief interlude for a dozen offstage horns. Stationed high in the gallery, their sound filled the hall with thrilling brightness and immediacy, giving the slightly alarming impression that the walkers had inadvertently strayed into their path. It was by some way the best I've heard their brief interjection. Other early details were given in high-definition vivid colour, Volkov pausing only slightly to admire the views. 

The summit loomed with slightly less sense than usual of being the climax of the symphony, after a couple of near tumbles in the Precarious moments and some slight balance issues in the brass. There was no shortage of grandeur, but Volkov pushed on quickly as the mists gathered. The storm was a monumental outburst of rage, all thundering timpani and howling wind machine (can one suffer wind machine elbow?) before an enchantingly serene descent in the watery evening sun. The quaint chapel organ gave way to a long and deeply moving passage for luxuriously elegant violins and pure-toned horn, weaving their way around each other until the trombones' dark nightfall. Volkov's Alpensinfonie may have had the air more of a walk around some attractive hills than a towering Alpine summit, but the detail in the scenery and beauty of the descent made this a memorable day out.