It was cheering that the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra opened its latest concert with an indisputable Strauss masterpiece, after giving us his over-inflated Symphonia Domestica a fortnight ago.
His Four Last Songs is an extraordinary envoi; a rapturous leave-taking, using Hesse and Eichendorff poems to reflect on a life lived, from the optimistic glow of spring to final resignation at dusk, with lush orchestral upholstery.
Edo de Waart was in familiar and cherished territory. The conductor knows every move and effortlessly drew forth billowing waves of sound.
Unexpected turns of harmony created goosebumps and every detail registered, from Vesa-Matti Leppanen's crucial violin solos to unfailingly shapely woodwind playing.
The vocally radiant Christiane Libor exerted a powerful presence. A tendency to slide around Strauss's vocal line didn't persist past the first song and her beautifully observed final song would have been even more effective had there not been a score and music stand between her and us.
After interval, the German soprano didn't quite convey the childlike heavenly visions of the finale to Mahler's Fourth Symphony, this time holding her score.
Nevertheless, de Waart reaffirmed his Mahlerian credentials. And, after a particularly expansive Poco Adagio, the third movement's triple forte explosion was a spine-tingler.
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Aotea Centre