The spirit of Hector Berlioz hovered over Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Fantastique concert , from the opening invocation of Jack Body's Hector's Ghost.

The APO's new resident composer has delved into the boisterous funeral march of Symphonie Fantastique to find evasive, scattered sonoroties, punctuating their often nervy spasms with brilliant orchestral flurries.

Body's prismatic, fractured textures cleverly echo Berlioz's own radical scoring, adding his own signature when Thai gongs form a multicultural quartet with piano, harp and marimba and low strings take their leave with elegiac seagull cries.

A rousing bravo to conductor John Nelson who, after an eloquent show-and-tell discussion of the piece, treated us to a second thrilling performance.


Michael Endres deserved better Mozart than the Coronation Concerto, a piece dogged by too much run-of-the-keyboard passagework, and not enough of the composer's chromatic spices.

Yet the pianist almost overrode one's misgivings with his finely articulated first movement, and the romantic sweep of its cadenza.

Nelson and the orchestra offered sterling support, especially in the brisk canter of the Larghetto, the repetitiousness of which was leavened by Endres' elegant ornamentation.

As an encore, the pianist offered his own transcription of Bach's Air on the G String, beautifully weighted to bring out inner voices and one moment of harmonic boldness.

After the interval, Symphonie Fantastique was the wild ride it should be. Nelson, one of the world's leading Berlioz men, held nothing back; what we heard was indeed the composer whom German poet Heine likened to "a lark as big as an eagle, such as must have existed in the primeval world".

Appreciated touches included Brent Grapes' scurrying cornet obbligato in the Waltz and, in the following movement, Bede Hanley's expressive oboe responding to Martin Lee's equally poignant on-stage cor anglais from the balcony, perfectly catching the open spaces of its rustic setting.

One was tempted, on feeling slight tremors underfoot in the Finale, to concoct one's own fantasies of dancing demons wanting to join in the on-stage frenzy.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall