Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra launched its Mountain King concert with a hardy Nordic perennial, Grieg's Peer Gynt.

Maestro Giordano Bellincampi ensured his musicians' response was remarkably fresh, underlining the evocative power of this score. Morning dawned with alpine clarity, the final "troll-duggery" swept from jaunty to sinister and superb strings mourned the death of the hero's mother.

On the eve of joining the judges' panel at Queenstown's Michael Hill International Violin Competition, Ilya Gringolts gave a thrilling performance of Brahms' Violin Concerto.
Brahms himself would have appreciated Gringolts' engagement with Bellincampi's well-primed players, culminating in the soloist's original and mercurial cadenza. In the Adagio, his wistful melodies were offset by cool woodwind and he forcefully unleashed the finale's gypsy fire, followed by an even wilder solo encore written by Romanian composer George Enescu.

Bellincampi intends that the APO eventually play all six Carl Nielsen symphonies, and tonight's Sinfonia Espansiva made one impatient for the next. Leonard Bernstein used words like swing, drive and constant unpredictability to describe the Danish composer's music; highlights of this performance included the hurtling momentum of the opening Allegro and an Andante with vocals from Tabatha McFadyen and Jonathan Eyers.

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Best of all was a closing Allegro that started with a mock-Elgarian march and ended with a glorious celebration of the spontaneous spirit, so typical of its composer.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Mountain King
Where: Auckland Town Hall