Following his acclaimed performancesof Messiaen and Bruckner last week, Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runniclesreturned to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for yet more works dealing with spirituality and the sublime, with the theme of death emerging more strongly here.

Brett Weymark, Donald Runnicles, Erin Wall and Samuel Dundas with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Jay Patel

Opening with Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung, this was a thoughtful, deeply felt account to savour. From the hesitant opening lines, evoking a flickering consciousness, to the contrast and colour brought to the subject’s imaginings and remembrances, Runnicles brought an attention to drama and detail that never felt mannered or grandstanding. The violins acquitted themselves well in the long, high-lying phrases, the brass robust and rich but never overpowering. Rhythmically precise, the central crisis burst forth with startling power, the resolution imbued with a quiet ecstasy. Runnicles achieved an exquisite hypnotic quality in the work’s final moments, a solemn culmination carefully modulated but with real depth of feeling.

Canadian soprano Erin Wall then joined the orchestra for the same composer’s Four Last Songs, the last of which, Im Abendrot, cites the...