After the disappointment of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's last visit, with a thrown-together programme of music inspired by Shakespeare, punctuated by the relentless spiel of conductor Alexander Shelley, its Friday concert was a welcome return to form.
There seemed to be close to a full house, doubtlessly due to conductor Edo de Waart presiding over Mahler's great Ninth Symphony, although the evening opened with a Mozartian bonus. Simone Lamsma showed spirit and flair in the D major Concerto K 218. The opening Allegro had a taut spaciousness, with Lamsma's generous bow projecting shapely lines over some compact orchestral playing.
It was in this movement that the violinist's own cadenzas worked best, even if they took Mozart's themes to the brink of a new century.
In the following Andante cantabile, a surfeit of double-stopping seemed emotionally superfluous after earlier and very classical restraint.
Ten years ago, Edo de Waart stood on this stage, giving us Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and squiring the young Lang Lang through a Chopin concerto; tonight, with Mahler, he was self-evidently on home ground.
Mahler's opening movement may have set off at a comfortable walking pace but, over the ensuing 30 minutes, there were many blistering eruptions, for which De Waart drew on the sinew and Rolls-Royce precision of the NZSO players.
There were hushed moments, one dramatically ushered in by timpani and horns and, more than once, the sense of the music being drawn back into the very earth so it could be reborn with new vigour.
In interview, De Waart spoke of Mahler's grim humour, likening the second movement to James Ensor's expressionist paintings; in performance this parallel was brilliantly achieved, with the conductor taking his time to set up stunning confrontations of mood.
There was a breathless sense of the wild in the Rondo-Burleske that followed, with its many hints of a later Shostakovich to come.
The final Adagio seemed like a summation of Mahler's career and life - this was his last complete symphony - and sumptuous strings effortlessly captured the richness, beauty and sorrow that De Waart was aiming for.
• What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
• Where: Auckland Town Hall
• When: Friday