MUSIC Inspired by Nature, is what we were promised and in their spring concert, given last month, Peebles Orchestra duly delivered.

In the process, they were themselves truly inspired and set a new performance benchmark, with all sections on sensational form.

The opening of Hamish McCunn’s ‘Land of the Mountain and the Flood’ set the standard, with wonderfully confident cellos laying out the first theme, followed by the second violins introducing the much-loved ‘Sutherland’s Law’ tune – surely one of the most instantly recognisable melodies in all Scottish ‘classical’ music. That standard was maintained throughout, with the brass sounding truly heroic as the first theme developed.

The orchestra was joined by the distinguished cellist Robin Mason for two characteristically tuneful pieces for cello and orchestra by Dvo?ák. In ‘Silent Woods’, the composer exploits the cello’s wistful, singing quality whilst the ‘Rondo in G minor’ is more robust and folk-infused.

Robin Mason proved a fine exponent of both works, with expert and sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra. In her excellent programme notes, Hester Lean quotes Dvo?ák’s uncomplimentary opinion of the cello (‘it whinges up above and grumbles down below’). One wonders if he might have revised his opinion after hearing it so expressively played as this!

The first half was completed by George Dyson’s ‘Woodland Suite’, a charming collection of miniatures first published in 1918 under the rather twee title of ‘Pixieland’. This somewhat neglected work proved to be another fascinating discovery by the orchestra and the delicacy of its scoring drew beautifully transparent sounds from the wind principals and strings.

In the realm of ‘music inspired by nature’, surely nothing matches the glorious ‘Pastoral’ Symphony by Beethoven and it was this masterpiece that filled the second half of the concert. Conducting from memory, Maestro Robert Dick inspired his forces to perhaps the greatest heights they have ever scaled. Across all five movements of this great work, the orchestra wonderfully evoked the feelings that Beethoven set out to portray – and it was the composer himself who emphasised his intention to express feelings rather than paint literal pictures.

The joyous first movement and the tranquil second created a great sense of calm before the roller-coaster ride of the last three linked movements. After the rustic charm of the third movement came the mighty storm of the fourth, in which the trombones, timpani and piccolo made their entrance to overwhelming effect. Finally, in the Shepherds’ Hymn, the orchestra led us to heights of ecstasy that were simply spine-tingling.

This was a performance to treasure by an orchestra and conductor at the top of their game, and thanks to the excellent acoustic of Kingsland School hall, every note, from first to last, from the softest to the loudest, sounded magnificent.

John Fox