Carol Hirschfeld and Clarissa Dunn, sharing MC duties, launched Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Settling the Score by promising us a great range of music.

Alas, RNZ Concert's annual listeners poll played it particularly safe this year and tonight we were locked into a well-upholstered comfort zone of very traditional fare. Not to say that there wasn't enthusiasm simmering through the well-filled town hall; more than one punter edged up to me for an insider's tip on what piece might come up tops.

No surprise that it turned out to be The Lark Ascending and, although Vaughan Williams' quarter-hour of pastoral idyll can test listener endurance at the end of a long evening, there was the bonus of a fine solo turn by the APO's new associate concertmaster, Liu-Yi Retallick.

It was a night of soloists, from Liam Wooding surging through Rachmaninov to Xing Wang dispensing Beethoven's Emperor finale with flair and wit. James Fry's nobly phrased Adagio from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto was a definite highlight and Patricia Wright, singing one of Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs, brought back fond memories of the soprano's long association with the orchestra. Afterwards, her on-stage interview with Hirschfeld was deftly handled.

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At the end of the evening, Australian conductor Matthew Coorey congratulated the orchestra with an unconditional "bravissimo." True, the players almost lifted the roof as they drove through the Allegro con brio of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and Lilburn's Aotearoa overture made a strong impact.

It was unfortunate, though, that straggling strings towards the end of the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony did make one raise an eyebrow at Dunn's commendation of "sublime," and was I the only one to wince at her likening the movement's main melody to "a lovely cuddle with a grandparent?"

Yet, in a sense, the strongest argument for Settling the Score as a concert is that it enables the APO to embrace the city, reaching out to those who may not be subscribers but may well be tempted in the future.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Settling the Score
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday