Season opener features trio of singers and actor Raymond Hawthorne

In the flow of Lilburn centenary tributes, Auckland Chamber Orchestra launched its Sunday concert with one of the most moving. Peter Scholes and David Kelly gave us the 1948 Sonatina for clarinet and piano, reaffirming its status as one of the composer's most poignant scores.

Scholes' programme note made personal connections; he was a student of George Hopkins, for whom it was written. In performance, he responded eloquently to its permeating sense of elegiac reserve, beautifully echoed and supported by Kelly.

The clarinettist remained on stage for a shortish quartet, Innocents in Love, by the contemporary American Robert Xavier Rodriguez. Initially, I felt guilt pangs at not being familiar with a composer with no fewer than eight operas to his credit. The dull note-spinning that was dealt out made me realise there was no need for self-flagellation.

However, there were still rewards from this unconvincingly eclectic music in the crisp pianism of the indomitable Rosemary Barnes and the lyrical outbursts of cellist Paul Mitchell.

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The main drawcard was Miss Donnithorne's Maggot, a 1974 theatre piece by Peter Maxwell Davies. For just over half an hour, Claire Scholes acted out the psychological crumbling of the piece's tragic, jilted heroine in a series of rants, reels and recitatives.

Few performers can totter, swoop, shriek and cajole as this singular mezzo can. She did all this and more in a virtuoso turn, dressed like a zombie courtesan of two centuries ago in a Chantelle Gerrard gown.

A minimal but effective set by Tracey Collins, dominated by a crazed wedding cake, was a stark playground for her rambling and raving, adroitly choreographed by Marianne Schultz. If there was stridency, it was dramatically sanctioned and, throughout, six instrumentalists, conducted by Peter Scholes, provided a sensitive backdrop.

Talk of terrible spiders sparked off a wild solo from flautist Luca Manghi while the heroine's final recitative brought in the violin strummed a la banjo.

Although this work could seem like a museum piece in our cooler-than-cool times, this brave production could be considered for the country's burgeoning festival circuit.

Classical review
What: Auckland Chamber Orchestra
Where: Raye Freedman Arts Centre.