It was little surprise that the fury of Brett Dean's Fire Music, conducted by the composer himself, provided the highlight of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra most recent concert.

Despite an ancillary amplified string quartet being placed high up the stage rather than behind us, we were almost surrounded by musical conflagration. Thunder sheets rumbled on either side of the stalls and, most effectively at one point, lapping flute sonorities seemed to travel around the hall.

The stark landscape of Sibelius' Scene with Cranes, with crying clarinets, had linked seamlessly into the murmuring menace of Dean's music, before it broke into spectacular walls of sonic flame.

Yet this was not a relentless high-octane soundtrack for bushfire Armageddon. Zane Banks' implacable electric guitar solo managed to be sinister and poignant at the same time, while a crucial two-note motif was both structurally important and emotionally consoling.

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Fire Music was a tough act for Brahms' Second Piano Concerto to follow but Dean and pianist Piers Lane maintained their focus right through to its flickering flurry of a finale.

Only in the Andante was one slightly let down, when David Berlin's solo cello did not quite achieve the soulful warmth that this glorious slow movement demands.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart