Poetry and power merged as promised for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of young Spanish conductor Antonio Mendez, joined by Croatian Dejan Lazic for Brahms' First Piano Concerto.

The pianist Claudio Arrau once stipulated that the first movement should be played majestically, as its composer directed, rather than simply fast. In keeping with Brahms' intentions, there was a cohesion to this performance that allowed the volatile opening pages to melt with a murmur into the nocturne-like theme that follows.

Lazic is a virtuoso, aware of the colouristic potential of technical brilliance when casting electrifying octaves towards an ominous burst of timpani.

If Mendez sometimes seemed intense and nervy in his movements, it only served to highlight the almost psychological struggle that lies in these pages.


For all the power games, however, there was also great tenderness, a quality Clara Schumann singled out in the score. This came out in Lazic's solo moments, offering us, more than once, just over a minute of what could have been a prime quality Brahms recital, exquisitely modulated in both tone and tempo.

This more pensive mood returned in a lingering second movement while the closing Rondo, again observing its creator's caution against playing too fast, brought together gypsy fervour, a jocular contrapuntal workout and rousing romantic gesture.

French composers have often been drawn to the sounds and colours of Spain and we heard two evocative specimens of this musical border crossing.

Debussy's Iberia, the second of his three Images, was utterly spellbinding, transporting us from local streets through perfumed nights to its final exultant break of dawn.

Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole may make a more muted entrance but it also deals out its own blazing climaxes. Pleasures here were as much for the eye as the ear, when the sun-like spheres of Shane Currey's cymbals were poised aloft during one particularly shattering crescendo.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall