Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's A Night of Firsts opened with a coup - the southern hemisphere premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Symphonic Movements, the results of the APO's first venture into international commissioning.

Turnage may come with a reputation for composing on the wild side but nothing here would disturb audiences comfortable with a voyage from composers Stravinsky to Bernstein.

Conductor Christian Kluxen did full justice to a score crammed with incident and ingenuity, from the zany waltzing in its first movement to the dramatic rhythmic jolts of its finale.

He skilfully charted the shifting moods, securing the perfect balance for its eerie second movement and bringing out the bloom of its fourth featuring Josh Rogan's poignant piccolo trumpet.

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We rarely hear the piano concertos of Mendelssohn, compared to those of Liszt, Chopin and Schumann; pianist Ingrid Fliter was a suitably fleet-fingered soloist in his first. It is foolish to seek out intense emotions in this happy and sometimes frivolous music better by far to relax and enjoy the glitter and sparkle of precipitous passage work, which the dexterous Fliter dispensed with ease.

A beautifully nuanced Chopin nocturne at encore time revealed a much deeper romanticism, well beyond Mendelssohn's grasp.

Sibelius's First Symphony was an historic movement for Finnish music in its time, even if it's now impossible to listen to its Nordic brooding and not hear the spirit of a stark and lean Tchaikovsky.

Should we worry? Maybe not. The great American conductor Eugene Ormandy certainly didn't feeling that the Russian composer had been so gloriously tributed here. From its opening pages, with cool clarinet over ominous timpani, one could seen maestro Kluxen drawing links with Sibelius symphonies yet to come.

With the APO at its considerable best, Kluxen made the first movement into a great breathing organism, its musical arguments asserting its true symphonic status. There was just the right degree of dark and light in the second movement and, after the scherzo had been launched over fierce strumming, the final brought the evening to a rousing close.

Lowdown
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - A Night of Firsts
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart