The BSO faithful do like their old conductors. Old as in former.

And they seem to retain a particular affection for New Yorker Andrew Litton, principal conductor from 1988 to 1994 and now conductor laureate.

Litton made another return to what he describes as his first love for an evening of ballet music - his current post is music director at the New York City Ballet.

A few days before Wednesday’s performance, Litton told the Daily Echo he was looking forward to a sparkling performance.

It was duly delivered.

The BSO were on fire in an absolute stunning couple of hours that featured Debussy’s Prelude a L’Apres-midi d’un faune, the galloping and joyful Symphony in C by Bizet (who never got to hear his masterpiece performed) and Act 2 of The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s festive bit of magic which has to rank as one of most delightful pieces of music ever written.

The players were indeed on sparkling form, appearing to thoroughly enjoy their evening’s work.

Ballet music is not that often played by a symphony orchestra so it was fascinating for a change to be able to concentrate on the players, rather than on the dance.

Or as Litton put it from a conductor’s perspective, he could go at his own tempo and not be told by the prima ballerina, you’re going too fast.

The players revelled in the intricacies, fun and familiarity of The Nutcracker and its numerous ‘hit tunes’, with an energetic, disciplined and powerful performance. All sections of the orchestra rightly took a bow after what was a real workout.

A special mention for the wonderful woodwind section and principal oboe Ted Kay, who was appointed by Litton back in the day.

The beauty of the playing was encapsulated in everything, but especially The Waltz of the Flowers. Sublime.

Litton conducts 47 performances of The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet every year and he said in advance the BSO audience would hear something very special. He did not disappoint.

Andy Martin