The quicksilver winds of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra slithered across the orchestra after the initial hard crack that opened Richard Mills’ Aeolian Caprices. Written in 1988 for the Queensland Youth Orchestra, Mills’ athletic, punchy music – which lurches from lyrical strings and harp to restless, rhythmic passages – was a shot of adrenaline in the hands of Lawrence Renes, the Dutch-Maltese maestro making his SSO debut. The playful six-minute Aeolian Caprices– crafted around the tones of the Aeolian, or natural minor, mode –  dwarfed by Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto at the other end of the program, made the audience sit up and pay attention.

Barry Douglas, Lawrence Renes, Sydney Symphony Orchestra Barry Douglas, Lawrence Renes and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Daniela Testa

Between those two extremes was Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony, the composer’s final – and shortest – contribution to the form. There was a gentle warmth to the ascent from the opening’s lower strings that belied the vast, icy vistas that so often come to mind when hearing the Finnish composer’s music, Renes finding in the tightly packed, single-movement symphony an intimate, down-to-earth quality. The SSO’s trombones suffused the Concert Hall with...