The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Classical Hits is nothing if not geographically adventurous, touring a programme of "lovable" music to 11 communities from Kerikeri to Invercargill.

It was certainly good to revisit the billowing surprises of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, so gracefully contoured by conductor Hamish McKeich that one wished the customary first movement repeat had been observed.

Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme is pretty rather than dramatic, as concertos go. It's also more convincing in the composer's original version which was used even if syndicated programme notes showed some confusion here.

Soloist Andrew Joyce, the NZSO's principal cellist, delivered a heartfelt Andante sostenuto variation with telling rubato and elegant phrasing, perfectly placed before the breathless rush of the finale.

Advertisement

Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet were predictable showcases, and the Russian composer's cataclysmic sparring might well lift the roof of Oamaru's Edwardian opera house in a few weeks' time.

For me, however, Debussy' idyllic forest glade was blighted by McKeich's podium introduction, with atrocious pronunciations (Cloud Debussy), the poet Mallarme described as a composer and cheap humour involving Nijinsky's controversial choreography of the piece, 18 years after its musical premiere.

The NZSO should be very proud of Dame Gillian Whitehead's Turanga-nui, a new commission that deserved to be heard by a bigger audience, as part of a more substantial programme. Whitehead responds to the 250th anniversary of Cook's landing with subtlety and attitude. Bold colours, from gull-like strings and pelting woodwind to horn evoking phantom taonga puoro, suggest wider cultural issues. Above all, however, the primacy of the land remains inviolate, beautifully rendered in the gentle, implacable tap of river stones.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart