This programme of three movement, essentially classical works opened with neoclassicism in the shape of Stravinsky's 1946 Concerto in D. The titular key of D major ensured a bright sound from SCO strings and their electrifying articulation certainly added to the livelier moments' energy. This was particularly the case with the second violins' ostinato figures in the opening Vivace. Commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her Basel Chamber Orchestra, this is a work of classic conflict and contrast. About two minutes in, the work appears briefly to abandon its albeit tangentially tonal language for something resembling serialism. This movement and the Ginastera-like closing Rondo were contrasted nicely by the central Arioso – Andantino in which some lovely parallel harmonies were tenderly shaped. Directing from the fingerboard, Alexander Janiczek also featured in a jaunty duo moment with his desk partner, Ruth Crouch. I was new to this fine work, have already revisited it and foresee doing so many more times.

Llŷr Williams © John Ferro Sims
Llŷr Williams
© John Ferro Sims

Horns and oboes joined the previously exclusively string texture for Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major K364. SCO Principal Viola Jane Atkins, playing the composer's own part, joined Janiczek centre-stage. In the opening tutti they faced the orchestra and then, like time-lapse-photographed heliotropes, they turned to face the audience as the sustained opening notes of their solo parts grew out of the orchestra. Their contrasting stage presence was intriguing. Janiczek, the taller of the two, retained an essentially upright posture throughout while Atkins derived drive from lower, more mobile stances. This visual difference was offset by their striking continuity of sensibility exhibited in all three movements – articularly in the central Andante's duo cadenza. I wasn't surprised to read in the programme that Janiczek and Atkins have played this work numerous times with the SCO; audience response was warm, vocal and sustained. Orchestral clarity and balance were excellent, the wonderful Queen's Hall acoustic affording separation of line at which only the most bank-breaking hi-fi could aim. Delicate phrase ending by the oboes in the closing Presto shone through effortlessly.

A centrally placed Steinway awaited us after the interval from which Llŷr Williams would play and direct Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat. I had been struck by Williams' relaxed demeanour when he directed the SCO in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto in November 2014. That was no one-off; no matter the technical or expressive demands, Williams seems to deliver with calm assurance. The opening Allegro con brio's cadenza was a case in point: from its opening motif, which seemed simply made for the counterpoint which followed, Williams deftly negotiated its rapidly changing textures, now toccata-like, now rhapsodic, now modernly angular.

The timelessly soaring Adagio was beautifully played by all. Beethoven's question and answer treatment of a lovely six-note phrase was so perfectly played that it was difficult to believe we were hearing a dialogue between a soloist on a non-sustaining instrument and an ensemble of sustaining ones. Students of harmony yet to be convinced of the dramatic power of suspended chords should hear the closing bars of this movement's cadenza – certainly as played here. On the subject of suspense, Williams seemed later to be employing some interesting use of the sustain pedal. I couldn't see his feet but I could have sworn that orchestral notes resonated through the strings liberated by the pedal.

Students of harmony might also delight in Beethoven's use of cheery minor key material in the closing Rondo: Allegro molto. This mixed with the rhythmic trompe-oreille where the key note falls on the weak beats of the 6/8 bar makes for a lively finish which all seemed very much to enjoy. The addition of flute and bassoons afforded a genuinely balanced, three-colour palette of piano, strings and wind.

The evening's gradually thickening orchestral broth now included clarinets, trumpets and timpani. Their contribution was immediately felt in the evening's most populated and arguably most straightforwardly joyous work, Mozart's Symphony no. 31 in D major – often referred to as the “Paris” Symphony. The SCO's ebullient opening was nicely offset by the arrival of the quietly chirping second theme. Energy levels were nicely handled in this movement, right to its raucous finish. The delicate Andante, featuring some lovely flute playing by SCO Principal Flute Alison Mitchell, was followed by a fiery Allegro with some very dramatic harmony. One moment of great energy featured a colourfully orchestrated fugato passage culminating in repeated, syncopated notes. A truly operatic composer such as Mozart is necessarily a juggler of emotions and much of this movement seemed to mix joy and ferocity, both of which were here conveyed with 100% conviction.