What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall

Reviewer: William Dart

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's New Horizons concert was an extraordinary achievement, drawing on a local conductor and soloist with music that attested to the APO's vigorous programming.

We set off in home territory with Douglas Lilburn's A Song of Islands, an ambitious 1946 score that separates the composer's well-known overtures from weightier symphonies yet to come.

For just over a quarter-hour, this music exuded a tremendous intensity; there may have been a few familiar flurries, but these were countered by new gravitas and nobility, particularly in the string writing.

Conductor Hamish McKeich sustained all this, as well as pepperings of sinewy dissonance, with a balance of cool precision and sensitive nuancing. And could one detect a special passion from the players, in their first performance of this unjustly neglected work?

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Concertmaster Andrew Beer, whose Ligeti concerto was one of last year's concert highlights, took the soloist spot once more for Karol Szymanowski's demanding second violin concerto.

The rarely-heard Polish composer wields an impressive musical paintbrush, laying out a vibrant sonic canvas, most relatable in style to his contemporary Bartok.

Beer was in top form and an inspiration to his colleagues, all responding to McKeich's vigilant marshalling of complex textures. Once more, Beer contributed his own cadenza, making more of Szymanowski's moody opening theme.

Returning for an encore and commenting on the concerto's cinematic quality, Beer and pianist Sarah Watkins offered a lyrical tribute to the late film maestro Ennio Morricone.

After interval, Sibelius' popular Second Symphony provided more familiar fare for most concert-goers.

It was here that McKeich revealed unswerving acumen, not afraid to let echoes of Tchaikovsky burst forth in the opening Allegretto, and relishing the craggy terseness of the following slow movement.

An air of unbridled celebration set in with an almost possessed scherzo leading to a triumphant finale, in chiming and utterly jubilant triple time.