We had been told that Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade had been programmed at least 23 times in the orchestra's history and, once again, it proved a reliable audience magnet.
Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya set off with a galvanic Dances of Galanta. For 15 minutes, we experienced Kodaly's gypsy ramble in the plush sonic comfort of an orchestral Rolls-Royce. The later Scheherazade was also a first-class trip. Within minutes, one almost physically felt the waves swelling around Sinbad's ship. For the second movement's whirling dervishes, full-on brass suggested a testosterone-laden Kalendar Prince; but not so overpowering as to prevent Bridget Douglas' flute magically emerging with the theme that we seemed to hear 1001 times.
Harth-Bedoya drew real passion from the strings in the third movement, with subtle, crucial rubato, a lively dance section recalling the Spanishry of Lalo's Cello Concerto already heard.
This had been an act of pure musical alchemy; a fairly ordinary score utterly transformed by charismatic soloist Johannes Moser.
Moser's encore responded to recent events from Orlando killings to Brexit follies. A Bach Sarbande was almost achingly sad, but boldly toyed with our expectations, from daring ornamentation to waiting expectantly for the heartstopping resolution of a final note.
What: NZ Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall