Mahler's Third Symphony was the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's spectacular contribution to the 2009 Auckland Arts Festival; on Friday, the same work proved a memorable launch for the orchestra's 2016 concert season.

Stage space was at a premium, and not only through the extra instruments, with eight horns announcing Mahler's first rousing fanfare. Above the orchestra, Auckland Boys Choir and women singers from Auckland Choral waited to give their well-measured heavenly judgments in the fifth movement.

Conductor Edo de Waart had already spoken to me of Mahler's "incredibly varied landscape". In the programme booklet he went further, likening the symphony to a beautiful flower, unfurling to reveal intricate layers of petals. He identified the bloom as a peony, although the symphony's 95 gripping minutes evoked a veritable garden of diverse foliage.

De Waart caught the all-embracing world of Mahler's nature vision in the massive first movement. There were moments of grandeur, often lined with angst, encountered early on in cries from the brass. There were also stark woodwind interjections, often over nervy string tremolos.


The second movement is nominally a minuet, although the atmosphere is rustic rather than genteel; surging strings look forward to Ravel in a score that elsewhere deals in echoes of Brahms.

In the sharply drawn textures of the third movement, it was extremely satisfying to hear and see the interplay of violins on either side of the conductor.

Swedish soloist Charlotte Hellekant, with a burnished tone very much on the contralto side of mezzo, effortlessly conveyed and projected the weight of Nietzsche's rather sombre text.

The Finale was almost cathartic in its intensity.

What: NZSO

Where: Auckland Town Hall