Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra launched its main New Zealand Herald Premier series with John Rimmer's Vulcan, a fanfare it commissioned 18 years ago.

Hurtling strings, piercing woodwind with foreboding brass and percussion invoked appropriately seismic blasts.

Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto is play-safe programming, but warhorses can reveal surprises with a soloist of Frank Dupree's stature. The German pianist dispensed glitter and fire with a dizzying blur of hands while poetry was paramount in the first movement cadenza.

Giordano Bellincampi and Dupree created a gladiatorial sense of contest in this massive first movement and, if the lyrical Andante pre-empted Rachmaninov, then the finale ignited almost Stravinskian fireworks.


Encore time was memorable with Dupree's improvisation on Somewhere over the Rainbow, melding cool elegance and jaunty stride, ending with a playful, and appreciated, Tchaikovsky quote.

After interval, watching Bellincampi deal with Richard Strauss was to see a conductor in rapturous accord with this lushest of music. The joie de vivre of the Rosenkavalier Suite was infectious, from surging waves of magnificent sound to oases of chamber music delicacy.

Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks could be an accompaniment for an imaginary movie, tracing the trajectory of Strauss' hapless hero. Tonight, the APO's Music Director ensured that not a cue was missed, from Nicola Baker's cheeky theme tune to shapely epilogue and final hearty guffaw.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, February 16