Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra launched its 2016 New Zealand Herald Premier series in grand style, even if the slick, anodyne cover of its programme booklet disappointed after last year's inspired artwork, featuring Gavin Hurley's cluster of elegant batonmeisters.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra signed off 2015 with a memorable Walton Cello Concerto, featuring the brilliant young Swede Jakob Koranyi; tonight, less than three months later, we were hearing the same work, entrusted to Australian cellist, Li-Wei Qin.

The composer considered this 1956 score the best of his three concertos and, once again, it was impossible to resist its wistful yet edgy romanticism.

Conductor Christopher Seaman found just the right tempo for the opening Moderato and Qin was at his best here, weaving angular yet intensely lyrical song through remarkably responsive orchestral textures.


Yet elsewhere he sometimes projected unease, certainly more than can reasonably be sanctioned by the undeniable ferocity of the Finale's first cadenza.

In its final pages, Walton's sublimely serene leave-taking had its impact dimmed through worrying lapses with Qin's intonation.

When the APO last gave us Mahler's Fifth Symphony in 2012, CEO Barbara Glaser spoke optimistically from the stage about the government's forthcoming review of the orchestral sector.

Tonight, addressing an almost full town hall and, even with some of the issues of four years ago unresolved, her words of confidence would find the perfect musical echo in Seaman's magnificent Mahler.

The conductor had led me to believe that he would eschew any easy expressionism in his interpretation, yet the composer's symphonic world was laid out with all the dramatic contrasts that one could wish for.

The score's signature trumpet fanfare brilliantly set up 68 minutes of Mahlerian soul-baring, with the ever-calm Seaman creating a marvelous mélange of sound during the denser mixes.

The Adagietto, tightened to a crisp eight minutes, revealed the APO strings in excellent form, catching all the subtle inflections of Mahler's intricate voicings.

The symphony's final glorious affirmation of life, in and beyond the concert hall, was a thrilling conclusion after the particularly fragmented writing in the Finale.

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