Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage has always seemed a poor cousin to his more popular Hebrides Overture, despite its literary credentials.
The composer may track a Goethe poem from religioso introduction through stolid musical seafaring to the dramatic salvation of a three-trumpet fanfare but, on paper, it's a curiously awkward work.
However, such is the alchemy of a persuasive live performance combined with the staunch advocacy of conductor Eckehard Stier that this problematic piece provided a rousing launch for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Calm Seas concert.
American violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley was a lithe, urbane soloist in Mozart's K 218 Concerto, showing the assurance and sangfroid of an Olympic athlete in truly Olympian music.
Deft at tracing a shapely line along with the many twists and turns of the mercurial finale, Bendix-Balgley seemed to be conspiring with Stier to dispense stylish and guilt-free pleasure.
The violinist's numerous original cadenzas were charmingly apt, with poignant double-stopping in the Andante cantabile. His encore was a Bach Gavotte en Rondeau, crisp and sonorous, with a breathtaking burst of ornamentation saved for the end.
Last year, Stier was particularly enthusiastic about tackling Alexander von Zemlinsky's The Mermaid and, after interval, he conducted this mammoth score with a sense of commitment bordering on possession.
Zemlinsky the composer was locked in a late romantic world, using a Hans Christian Andersen story to exorcise the agony of a thwarted love affair. Luxuriance ruled tonight with passion never lacking, from the heroine's first appearance, caught as a twentieth-century Isolde by Andrew Beer's violin solo.
Perhaps this music ultimately lacks the trajectory and thrust of Mahler's, but Stier and the marvellous APO swept any carping criticism aside, holding us spellbound for 44 minutes, on a magic carpet of cataclysmic climaxes and enchanted fairy tale vistas.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall