Celebration was in the air as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra set off with Gareth Farr's new He iwi tahi tatou, commissioned to mark the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's arrival in this country.

Although not without its subtle, gamelan-inspired textures, Farr has fashioned a big, flashy ceremonial offering here, much of it driven by relentless snare-drum. He may profess that his piece is less complicated than the political implications of its title (translated 'we are all one people' — Hobson's greeting to Maori at Waitangi) but perhaps some might hear murmurs of darker issues lying under its vibrant optimism.

Having dispensed Farr with the same gusto that he gave to so much Latin American music during his tenure with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya was intent to stress the gravitas of Brahms' Violin Concerto.

The spry soloist, Stefan Jackiw roved the work's expansive first movement, exploring every thematic nook and cranny with his orchestral colleagues and the Joachim cadenza was very much his own, thanks to its remarkable sense of improvisation. The Adagio, impeccably autumnal from its first bar, had Jackiw extending the composer's soaring lines into passionate exchanges with the musicians around him.

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After Brahms' bracing Hungarian-styled finale, an encore of unaccompanied Bach might have been welcome. However, this Largo, with every note a pearl of pure beauty, sacrificed cohesion through excessive rubato.

After interval, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony took the evening to a rousing climax as Harth-Bedoya, conducting without a score, knows just how to fire up an old warhorse.
Yet, it was not all brash brilliance. In the first movement, the conductor underplayed some of the melodramatic urgency that can be read into this score and brought out unexpected rhythmic inflections in the pizzicato dash of its third movement. The irrepressible rush of Tchaikovsky's finale burst forth with the sort of splendour that could well have competed with the bells and cannons of his 1812 overture.

Lowdown:
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart