Tonight's second instalment of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Degenerate, Denounced, Outrageous series was always going to be the most thematically coherent of the three concerts, with two works germinating from strong political premises.

Conductor Eckehard Stier (pictured), making a welcome return to the orchestra that he tended so well during his seven years as music director, did not flinch at the robust musical rallying of Sibelius' Finlandia.

The composer's self-described plein air approach makes for blasts of brass and surging orchestral climaxes, delivered with such fervour that one might have imagined the musicians having been transported to Finland in 1900, protesting the yoke of colonialist Russia.

Bartok's Third Piano Concerto is a work of relative contentment, written during his years of American exile; a former European life may have been behind him, but musically it's still there, refined and transformed into the language of one of the most individual composing voices of the last century.


Stier reconciled passion with intricate detailing in this often crystalline score, working well with Spanish pianist Javier Perianes, who moved deftly from dramatic flourish to delicate shudderings.

In the Adagio, the soloist's decorations encircled orchestral chorales as a mist might embrace a landscape; mid-movement, we were immersed in mysterious nighttime while Bartok's electrifying finale fused fire, frolic and fugue.

An exquisitely nuanced encore, a posthumous C sharp minor Nocturne by Chopin, offered further nocturnal ambience.

Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony, nominally about the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, was probably a veiled commentary on the disastrous Hungarian uprising of 1956.
Speaking from the podium, Stier made cinematic allusions, extremely apt for a score penned in symphonic Panavision.

Shostakovich takes his time and compels us to join him. The opening movement chilled, with unsettling string premonitions and ghostly fanfares; in between the spectacular anger of its two fast movements, a human heart could be heard in an Adagio, the violas carrying its noble melody with appropriate dignity.

Stier had told us that the world must strive for peace and, when the symphony ended with almost 30 seconds of lingering percussion resonance, it seemed that a heartfelt plea had been made again.

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