Substantial classical music has been meagre in this Auckland Arts Festival.
Little surprise then that the 90 engrossing minutes of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's War Requiem resulted in a packed town hall. This was a magnificent undertaking - not only because of the indisputable quality of Britten's score, but for the way in which it brought together the city's young musicians with the APO in one of the monumental works of the last century. Watching Eckehard Stier on the podium, one could sense Britten's music emanating from his baton.
Stier has spoken of the piece's political impact and implications. He was clearly enjoying the bristling eclecticism with Britten's references running from Bach and Verdi to Bernstein and Carl Orff.
The opening was appropriately sober and we sensed the weighty sorrows through terse orchestral tensions.
The racing fugue of Quam Olim seemed to be powered from within and, throughout, one was struck by the finesse of instrumentalists' solo contributions.
Stier ensured that the last section, saturated with the colours of full orchestral and choral forces, gave the resolution that our souls demanded.
Shamefully, at this point, and earlier on, during a particularly hushed moment, the atmosphere was broken by a cellphone.
Tenor Timothy Robinson was outstanding. The signature of Peter Pears is all over this part, and Robinson had both the vocal flexibility for free-range virtuosity and the lyricism to make the Agnus Dei melt hearts. Baritone Ivan Ludlow was excellent, too, both duetting with Robinson in the Dies Irae and in his final observations on the pity of war.
Soprano Orla Boylan has a voice with Wagnerian heft.
She effortlessly soared over the choirs and, where needed, came up with that "wild animal sound" Britten called for.
The combined singers of Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and the New Zealand Youth Choir, together with the local Auckland Chamber Choir, were splendid.
So too was the young treble choir, conducted by Karen Grylls, expertly navigating Britten's tricky lines over John Wells' pellucid organ sonorities.
What: War Requiem
Where: Auckland Town Hall