How could Sofia Gubaidulina's Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings fail to be the centrepiece of Auckland Chamber Orchestra's final concert of the year?

A rigorously uncompromising half-hour on the dark side, this 1975 score was invested with just the right degree of edgy doom by soloist Ben Hoadley, four cellos and three double basses.

Hoadley was very much the lyric hero that Gubaidulina envisaged, battling with brooding string sonorities that ultimately consume him. Introducing himself in melancholic tones, his virtuoso armament encompassed barbed trills, pungent multiphonics and saxophone-like laughs.

The small ensemble made for a dramatic interconnectedness, as the strings stole thematic fragments, set up foreboding forests of sinister pizzicato and stalked in dissonant clusters, all under the baton of Peter Scholes. Brilliant programing had this powerful and disturbing work set among frothy bonhomie and stylish elegance.

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A 1936 Capriccio by Jacques Ibert danced with such piquant humour that only a grinch would describe it as second or third pressing of Poulenc. The same merry mood returned later with a bubbling 1952 Divertimento for wind trio by Malcolm Arnold.

Flautist Luca Manghi unlocked the airy mysteries of Debussy's Syrinx and the evening closed with Ravel's Introduction and Allegro, featuring dexterous harpist Ning Chiang in dashing accord with simpatico string quartet, flute and clarinet.

What: Auckland Chamber Orchestra
Where: Raye Freedman Arts Centre
Reviewer: William Dart