There are some pleasures in life which never fade and high on my list is Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. These thoughts came to mind with Isabelle Faust's first phrase of the work with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The exotic melancholy of this sinuous opening theme cast its spell, suggesting a compelling performance lay ahead.
Faust is wary of the expected. The sense of wonder that she brought to the second theme of this Allegro molto appassionata easily held the sentimental at bow's length; a persuasive cadenza had us reflect on what had gone before.
She underplayed Mendelssohn's guileless Andante; there was an unassuming sweetness here with darker murmurings in the middle section. In the brilliant Finale, she was earthy, daring even to offer gruff retorts; this was far more than simply a glittering day trip to Mendelssohn's familiar fairyland.
Just last week, Faust suggested to me that this score's orchestral subtleties were too easily overlooked. Not tonight, with conductor Gunter Neuhold. The magical transitions between Mendelssohn's three movements took the breath away, while Neuhold's attention to phrasing and balance brought telling engagement between soloist and orchestra.
As an encore, a Bach Largo was delivered with greater freedom than Faust gave it in the studio. She lingered on its harmonies and, later, an ascending line might almost have floated to heaven itself.
Bruckner's Seventh Symphony was the most popular in the composer's lifetime, fuelled by a trip to Wagner's Bayreuth and the death of the great man. This is home territory for Neuhold, so much so that he had interpolated two pages from the alternative Haas edition into the performance.
With the APO in splendid form, he realised an appropriately architectural sweep to a work dedicated to Wagner's patron, King Ludwig, celebrated for his extravagant castle-building.
With four Wagner tubas proudly on display and particularly potent in the Adagio, Neuhold and the players refuted all the tired criticisms that Bruckner has had to bear.
Long, sustained pedal notes could have lasted forever, and massive climaxes, leading nowhere some would say, were sufficient unto themselves, especially when dazzlingly marked by that controversial cymbal crash.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall