Before the orchestra was on stage, there was a buzz in the fairly full Town Hall; of an audience eagerly anticipating the musical treasures that the title of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Thursday concert had promised.

Giordano Bellincampi was just the maestro to open up the scintillating world of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite.

The APO's new music director had no need of a baton to balance precision and poetry in the work's Introduction. The two big dances took excitement to the level of exultancy, particularly the wild turn of the villainous Kastchei.

The most potent magic came when a final suspended chord seemed to draw a curtain aside for the cool enchantment of the Berceuse.

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In 2003, the visiting American cellist Lynn Harrell spoke to me of his pleasure in playing shorter pieces, as well as full-length concertos.

Tonight Eliah Sakakushev-von Bismarck relinquished his Principal cello chair to give us a 10-minute Romance by Richard Strauss and Respighi's slightly longer Adagio with Variations.

The Strauss was amiably lightweight and Sakakushev-von Bismarck, playing without a score, wove his sinuous lines through the orchestral web with elegance and the subtlest of rubato.

This may have been the work of a teenage composer but tonight one heard a latent characterisation in these melodies that would bloom in Strauss' yet-to-be-written symphonic poems.

With the Respighi, the Italian conductor drew a particularly vibrant response from the orchestra, providing a backdrop for Sakakushev-von Bismarck's rapturous playing.

After interval came Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, a score rivalled only by the composer's Eighth when it comes to joyousness.

The opening Allegro vivace has the scurrying propulsion of a Mozart Overture, with the bonus of a nervy, darting development section. Within a few bars of its initial Adagio introduction, however, uncomfortably exposed first violins proved and, later on, continued to prove, worrying.

Nevertheless, there was much to enjoy in Bellincampi's spry Adagio; there was air and lightness here, and not a few Haydnesque surprises.

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The unabated humour of one of Beethoven's most adventurous Scherzos and the roller-coaster roar of the Finale were also memorable.

Review
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Thursday