American conductor Andrew Grams is making a name for himself in the world's concert halls and, just seconds into Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at its most lustrous, it was clear why.

Banish any thoughts of Mendelssohn as a polite watercolourist; Grams and his musicians were working in the richest oils, taking us far from the Scottish coast to the thrill of the open sea.

Soaring strings caught surging breezes, while Grams' dove-tailed textures had the finesse of a painter shading his way through a multitude of blues.

At the other end of the concert, Schumann's D minor Symphony made it clear that we do not have to wait until Brahms to find Beethoven's symphonic successor.


The working out of its first movement was bold, almost pungent in its dramatic shifts; the move from langsam to lebhaft delivered what would have been, back then, the jolt of the new.

Grams brought a chamber music sensibility to the Romanze, hosting as it does shapely solos for oboe, cello and violin; the American strode forcefully through the slightly four-square scherzo, but remembered Schumann's dreamy alter ego, Eusebius, in its trio.

Cellist Lynn Harrell was no doubt the reason for a healthily filled Town Hall and his perfectly gauged opening cadenza of Elgar's Cello Concerto was a portent of superb music-making to come.

There was a fragile beauty to the Moderato as Harrell and the orchestra explored that wafting melody that seems to exist in a land where time stands still.

Fire would come in the final movement, but not until the long-breathed phrases of the Adagio transfixed us, especially when soloist and conductor invested that hurrying moment in the score with an almost unbearable tension.

Harrell's encore was Bach's very first Prelude. It had a story to tell, and did so in the most direct and unaffected manner.

Perhaps I was not alone in recalling earlier Elgarian emotions as the American cellist built up to a triumphant signing-off.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Saturday.