A full house was predictable with Vladimir Ashkenazy on the podium and punters in the choir stalls were privileged to enjoy the conductorial jabs, punches and elbow flicks that inspired one of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's finest performances of the season.

The APO has seconded Rautavaara's Isle of Bliss for overture duties on two previous occasions; tonight, Ashkenazy marshalled sonorous strings, sweeps of harp and massive climaxes into a winningly lush welcome.

Oboist Gordon Hunt has played under Ashkenazy for decades and it showed in their affectionate take on the Richard Strauss Concerto.

With radically pared down orchestral forces, this was the epitome of elegance as Hunt floated his long and often florid lines over evanescent harmonies, graced by exquisitely gauged orchestral solos.

An encore was hardly expected but an expressive portrait of Pan from Britten's Metamorphoses after Ovid made one wonder why so many composers have chosen flute over oboe to tribute the Greek God.


After interval, Ashkenazy gave us Sibelius with inimitable authority.

Even if Tchaikovsky's shadow lingers over this composer's Second Symphony, Ashkenazy emphasized musical premonitions of things to come, especially in its radically fragmented second movement. The scherzo was positively demonic, the finale thrilling enough, in the words of critic Olin Downes, writing in 1909, to "throw manners to the winds and bring back the Gods."

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Ashkenazy
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall; Thursday