Zurich Opera/Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

You can take the boy out of Austria but you can't take Austria out of the boy. Franz Welser-Most has always been a very contained conductor – precise, rhythmic, unfussy – but release him into this entrancing world of a bygone Vienna that even Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal could only imagine and the instincts of his heritage unconsciously come into play.

His direction of this concert performance from Zurich Opera was a masterful blending of the work's comedy and nostalgia: from the breathless prelude with its orgasmically whooping horns through to its celeste-glinting fairy-tale conclusion, the balance between the opera's almost pantomimic busyness and its infusions of old-world charm was nigh perfect.

Welser-Most's Zurich Opera House Orchestra are well-versed in his ways and one impressive aspect of their contribution was the quickness of reflex that allowed for those sudden switches from hectic animation to tantalising reflection.

Following the madness of the Marschallin's "levee" in act one the way in which the bass clarinet ushered us into her inner world spoke volumes for her loneliness. At the close of the act the farewell to Octavian wasso final with solo violin poignantly suspended as if time really had stood still for the ageing Marschallin.

But it was Welser-Most's ability to make the score dance that proved most engaging. Act two was outstanding in this respect. Alfred Muff's Baron Ochs, like all truly pompous individuals, sails through the proceedings in blissful ignorance of his absurdity, catching the booming half-spoken/half-sung tone beautifully.

I'm not sure I completely warmed to Nina Stemme's Marschallin – but I felt for her. The gracious bloom of her voice, particularly in the middle and bottom registers, spoke of experience and authority. But this Marschallin wasn't sexy enough. When she says to Octavian: "You've made me an old woman today", we shouldn't actually believe it.

As Sophie, the Marschallin in embryo, Laura Aikin duly embraced her heady ascents while there was a really spirited Octavian in Michelle Breedt – feisty, ardent, with a terrifically virile top to the voice. Like all first-class Octavians you instinctively felt that she belonged with a woman not a girl. But this is 2008, not 1740.