The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra deserved a fuller house on Friday night, playing four works carefully chosen to demonstrate that the romantic spirit did not perish with the onslaught of the 20th century.

James Feddeck set off by investing Brahms' Tragic Overture with a drive and drama not always realised by other conductors, his baton slashing through the air, with timpani running the gamut from tremor to thunder.

Daniel Muller-Schott brought a richly toned elegance to Schumann's Cello Concerto, with a rhythmic freedom that risked self-indulgence. Yet Feddeck and his musicians were alongside the German soloist at every sigh and turn.

Schumann's rhythms can become tiresomely four-square, although this was not apparent with the lingering second movement.

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In the Weber-like finale, a sense of knowing playfulness kept spirits and music aloft.

After interval, the journey of Samuel Barber's iconic Adagio was exquisitely mapped and moulded by the orchestra's splendid strings.

For me, the youthful vigour of the American composer's First Symphony that followed is in a class of its own. Confidence and energy positively leapt out from its opening pages on Friday night, as powerful violin unisons worked through Barber's ever-shifting time-signatures.

A crisp tempo ensured that the Andante tranquillo melted into melody.

And the striving momentum of the final minute or so, with flickering brass fanfares and rushing strings, quite took the breath away.

Classical review

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Friday