Stern brought out the best in the orchestra, in keeping with the concert's Opulence title given to the concert ... Listening to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto under Michael Stern, with soloist Eldar Nebolsin, had the feeling of a privileged preview.
Next week, the musicians would be recording this work, along with the composer's less familiar Concert Fantasia, for Naxos.
It was a joy to experience the dynamic Uzbek pianist in action, easily vanquishing the challenges that Tchaikovsky's first movement presents, the ultimate being the great cadenza.
Even if the work itself can easily fall into a string of tunes, Nebolsin brought a real sense of cohesion into the cadenza's fiery four-and-a-half minutes; a touch of playful capriciousness did not go unnoticed in a passing Andante.
Stern brought out the best in the orchestra, in keeping with the concert's Opulence title given to the concert, with some particularly sumptuous string playing.
Concertmaster and principal cellist Vesa-Matti Leppanen and Andrew Joyce joined Nebolsin in the second movement for some well-turned chamber music, even if, melodically, this material does not show the composer at his most inspired.
The Finale was an uninhibited romp, an adrenaline-pumping ride on a runaway troika; page upon page of deadly dotted rhythms sustained a new momentum and sense of edge-of-the-seat inevitability.
Nebolsin's encore, after the extreme exertions of the concerto, was a lingering G major Prelude from Rachmaninov's Opus 32.
After interval, it was the orchestra's turn, under Stern, once again to fulfil promises of musical opulence.
Ravel's Mother Goose Suite invariably charms, and so it did, as the American conductor cast open the composer's exotic paintbox and allowed the musicians to work their magic.
If there was a tinge of tuning tarnish to the opening Pavane, then Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas, dealt out dazzlement in the purest of gold.
The Enchanted Garden of the last movement offered a vision that moved beyond fairy fantasy to capture the hopes and dreams of mankind in troubled times.
The final offering, a Suite from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavaler proved the last word in opulence, with conductor and orchestra offering us total satiation in some of the lushest music ever written.
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall