The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's all-Rachmaninov concert drew its biggest audience for a while, revealing this music's special ability to speak to our collective heart.

But what else would one expect from a man who once said he composed to give expression to his feelings, just as he spoke to give utterance to his thoughts?

Music director Edo de Waart promised no emotional overloading; the music would speak for itself and it did, beginning with an exquisitely poised and woven Vocalise.

Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto had the ideal soloist in Joyce Yang. The well-paced clarity of its opening pages illuminated some Bachian dexterity; she passionately embraced the arching melodies and fearlessly tackled the more difficult cadenza option.

Advertisement

The second movement cemented a unique musical partnership as delicate instrumental lines melded into keyboard shimmer. The finale thrilled, right through to its closing Vivacissimo.

Yang's encore transported us to Argentina, with Ginastera's portrait of a young girl evincing the same balance of simplicity and virtuosity delivered in the concerto.

Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances is his final work and a haunting response to critics who once likened his music to after-dinner cordials and boxes of assorted bonbons but this was a 40-minute main course.

De Waart's finesse didn't compromise a compulsively exhilarating launch but accentuated the cool woodwind traceries around Simon Brew's alto saxophone. After an elegant waltz in the ghostly ballroom of the second dance, the spiritual splendour of the third provided a brilliant and thought-provoking conclusion.

LOWDOWN
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart