Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra must have taken heart from a full house for the first of its Splendour of Vienna concerts. Beethoven's Choral Symphony was doubtlessly responsible for ticket sales, but there was a delicious irony in relatively obscure works by Schoenberg and Wolf playing to a capacity audience.
Christopher Bloom's expressive baritone caught intimations of mortality in Wolf's Denk Es, o Seele and revealed the dark night of the soul in Wo find' ich Trost, despite a few glosses on twisting chromatic lines.
Throughout, Eckehard Stier fired his musicians with his enthusiasm, especially in the diabolic Der Feuerreiter, featuring Auckland Choral.
Wolf himself described this gothic tale as hair-raising stuff, and little was held back, even if a mite more body in some of the men's fortissimo offerings would have been welcome.
The spirit of Mahler pervaded the ghostly fanfares and march of Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw. While the orchestra responded eagerly to the Schoenberg challenge, the men's chorus was tested, proving most assured when trombone doubled their line.
Stuart Devenie's narration, straying a little from Schoenberg's meticulous directions, was effectively dramatic. This is a major work, more topical than ever with the Auschwitz YouTube debacle, and unlikely to be heard here for some decades. It was played twice at its 1947 Albuquerque premiere - perhaps Auckland would have appreciated the same.
After interval, Stier shaped the sprawling first movement of Beethoven's Choral Symphony with the formal clarity of a musical Walter Gropius, in the ultimate reconciliation of rhetoric and poetry.
There was a rightness and an inevitability in the shifting moods of the second movement, while the great Adagio molto e cantabile scored with its gently insistent lyricism.
The Finale, from striding cellos and basses to final blaze of glory, was memorable, despite the almost unavoidable choral strain. Bloom was authoritative in his opening invocation and all four soloists, headed by the silken-voiced Aivale Cole, impressed.
The ultimate triumph belonged to Stier, cutting to the very heart of Beethoven's symphonic journey, navigating seamlessly from sauntering Turkish march through Richard Greager's rousing tenor solo to the composer in full fugal flight.
What:Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra .
Where: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday.