After too many fine New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concerts occasioning an embarrassing number of vacant seats, Saturday's Mahler 7: Mysteries of the Night drew in the crowds with Mahler and Bach.

Bach's D minor Double Violin Concerto is a score of peerless beauty, its many contrapuntal threads woven with inevitability and rightness.

Having conductor Pietari Inkinen and concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppanen as soloists seemed slightly gimmicky. The resulting performance was fluent and musicianly, if not quite matching the buoyancy of a true back-to-baroque band, floating on the gentle jangle of harpsichord continuo.

In Wellington last week, as relayed on Radio New Zealand Concert, the two men brought a winning lusciousness to the Largo, laced with a multitude of musical sighs, subtleties that did not register from the Auckland Town Hall stage.


Those who had come for a magnificent Mahler Seventh were not disappointed.

Inkinen knows that the secret of sustaining the long, unwieldy first and last movements is to ensure that textures are as clear and pellucid as a spring morning in the Alps. Aaron Copland once wrote that Mahler's orchestra was the first to play like a pianist without a pedal, and this conductor would surely agree.

Throughout pages teaming with directives, Inkinen caught them all, thrilling us with the might of the full orchestra and then letting us feel the shudder of an immense diminuendo.

Schoenberg, chiding critic Olin Downes for his cavalier treatment of this symphony, found strokes of genius in every bar. Inkinen seemed determined to search them out in the two Nachtmusik movements; the second offered bowers of enchantment, with the gentle guitar and mandolin joining an honourable roll call of other orchestral soloists.

Perhaps too much shameless major and minor is in the Finale for us to hear it as a total break with the Romantic century; yet, in other ways, it seems contemporary. Inkinen made it appear so, captivating us with Mahler's often visceral conflagration of sounds and incidents.

Classical music
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, Saturday