The legendary drawing power of the "Three Bs" would seem to be justified, if a healthy-sized audience for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's German Romantics concert on Thursday was any indication.

In fact, just two "Bs" - Brahms and Bruch - were all who were needed to bring in the punters.

This was Teutonic music mediated through Gallic sensibilities, in the hands of French conductor Lionel Bringuier.

Opening the programme, Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn was comparatively sedate, but it was impossible not to hear a suave elegance in its very opening phrases, with its pungent double reeds.


From the first variation, Bringuier emphasised clarity, even if it was sometimes compromised by strained intonation from the violins; energy did not abate until the final blast of the work's great passacaglia.

There were surprises too - a pummelling vivace for Variation 6 and a slightly dispassionate grazioso in the following Siciliana.

Natalia Lomeiko made a welcome return, challenging us to thrill anew to the old warhorse of Bruch's First Violin Concerto. And we did.

Lomeiko is not a flashy player, but exudes a no-nonsense honesty. She took her time pondering her opening bars and then transfixed us with unerringly accurate double stopping.

She delivered tenderness in the serpentine lines of the adagio, where Bruch comes closest to his idol Brahms, and led the orchestra in a blazing Finale.

I suspect that Brahms would have been intrigued by the very French logic that Bringuier brought to the expansive first movement of the composer's Second Symphony.

He searched out bold colourings in the adagio, not afraid to give us great surges of sound and some very Viennese portamento.

The folkish innocence of the intermezzo, with its hurtling presto interlude which seems to take a sidetrip to Mother Russia, made one realise why the audience demanded a repeat of this movement at its premiere.