Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra launched its Organ & Orchestra concert with a reminder of the unassailable genius of Joseph Haydn.

The overture to his oratorio Il Ritorno di Tobia is not major league by this composer's standards, but its zest and inventiveness proved an inspiration for Garry Walker, conducting an appropriately scaled-down group.

Anticipations of the younger Beethoven, along with some witty flourishes from a bygone age, were gracefully acknowledged.

Walker had commented on radio the previous day that this piece was like cleaning one's teeth after a heavy diet of meat and vegetables. In fact, the solid fare awaited us.
Some may have heard Guilmant's First Symphony for Organ and Orchestra last year at the launch of the refurbished Town Hall instrument but, thanks to Robert Costin's bold, forthright registrations, the work rang anew.


It was thrill-a-minute stuff. Pedal lines occasionally made one worry for the structural wellbeing of the building, although Costin brought forth subtler tinctures for softer passages, particularly with reeds.

Walker and his players were willing and able accomplices in reviving this immensely entertaining and flamboyant dinosaur.

After the interval, Elgar's First Symphony proved an extremely substantial main course. From the first bars, Walker caught the Elgarian spirit with carefully balanced forces yet occasionally there was the feeling of too much time being taken. Here and there, complex scoring, combined with constant tempo fluctuations, sometimes detracted from textural clarity. Towards the end of the movement, a magical passage, poco meno mosso, reminded me of Walker, in interview, singling out Elgar for praise as an orchestrator, comparing him not only to Richard Strauss but to Debussy and Ravel. An unexpected French connection was certainly made on this and other pages.
The dark surge of the second movement set its concluding funeral march in a new perspective while the Adagio _ one of the composer's loveliest slow movements _ benefited greatly from the finesse of the wind section.

While the score itself has some formal problems in its Finale, with an overly robust march and the looming presence of Brahms, this did not hinder Walker from bringing the evening to an appropriately triumphal close.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

Where: Auckland Town Hall.