It was heartening to see a full house welcoming back Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for 2018.
The title of the programme — Bellincampi Bavouzet Beethoven — suggested there would no summertime pop concessions. A full symphonic two hours lay ahead, with the return of music director Giordano Bellincampi and the distinguished French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet playing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto.
Conductor and soloist both understood and conveyed the paradox of this mighty work, moving, sometimes within a few notes, from the titanic to the tender. Beethoven's primal opening chords unfurled magisterially, fuelling many beautifully turned dialogues between orchestra and soloist.
More than ever, the central Adagio invoked the idyllic world of a Chopin nocturne, and the earthy finale was dispensed with fire and grace.
Bavouzet, offering a Debussy encore, avoided the expected submerged cathedrals and watery reflections. Instead, the visionary 1904 L'Isle Joyeuse combined dashing virtuosity and subtle voicings with the pianist's palpable joy in revealing premonitions of a young Stravinsky waiting in the wings.
After interval, the old warhorse of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony was sleekly groomed for the occasion.
Bellincampi's stamp was all over it, from his very particular dynamics and articulation in the opening pages to the surging passions of its Adagio. Predictably, its blazing finale marched right into to the audience's collective heart.
It was significant that the concert opened with the APO's first commission of the year.
Eve de Castro-Robinson's Tipping Point proved to be a miniature masterpiece, five minutes of dark forebodings and wistful nostalgia tinted with colours from her inexhaustible cabinet of sonorities.
Booms, whips and slashes of percussion, violin shrieks and baleful brass eventually succumbed to the relentless tick of solitary woodblock.
Percussionist Jennifer Raven persisted to the end, even as a fragment of Skye Boat Song floated poignantly past on high clarinet, remaining on duty, as her colleagues and conductor walked off stage.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart