It was the stuff of orchestral nightmares. On the very afternoon of the Auckland Philharmonia's first Great Classics concert, an accident had pianist Piers Lane withdraw from the programme.
Just hours later, the full house sign was outside the Town Hall; and the concert duly set off with the audience spilling into the choir stalls, lured by the killer combo of Grieg's Piano Concerto and Beethoven's Fifth.
It was heroic of Auckland pianist Stephen De Pledge to take over for the Australian soloist even if, understandably, given the lead-in time, his performance was far from blemish-free.
Here and there, curious minor slips suggested De Pledge was braving a test of nerves that would occasion shudders from even the hardiest. Yet in the Nocturne-like theme of the first movement, as well as the pianist's dialogues with the orchestra's woodwind, we could relax and enjoy his very individual musicianship.
Conductor Fabrice Bollon added his own telling touches to the familiar classic, especially in the rapturous first pages of the central Adagio.
The Frenchman impressed from the start, even with Schumann's often recalcitrant Overture, Scherzo and Finale. A short Andante, infinitely nuanced, took us to a sprightly saunter through a Mendelssohnian Fairyland. The billowing exchanges of the Scherzo's Trio were elegant while the gusto of the Finale almost made one overlook Schumann's obsessive dotted rhythms.
After interval, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was as fresh-off-the-page as it must have been for that first Viennese audience in 1808.
The first movement gained much from Bollon's immaculate phrasing, together with careful balancing of forces and dynamics; the Andante set off in emphatic triple time, with lower strings at their most melodious answered by a sigh of woodwind.
The blazing Finale reminded one of Schumann's assessment of this symphony as wielding its power with men of every age, like those great phenomena of nature that fill us with fear and admiration at all times, no matter how frequently we may experience them.
Which is, after all, what a classic is all about.By William Dart Email William