Could there be a more deliciously tempting overture than Samuel Barber's School for Scandal, the American's effervescent orchestral debut at the age of 21?
Tobias Ringborg certainly made it so with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the tingle of expectation running through a packed Auckland Town Hall augurs well for the Swedish maestro when he conducts NZ Opera's La Boheme next month.
After Barber's teasing flurries and darting wit, Rachmaninov's popular Second Piano Concerto dealt out more primal emotions, Russian style. Soloist Henry Wong Doe took on its many challenges with ease, totally unruffled by glittering passagework and bringing just the right heft to forests of chords.
There was admirable restraint in the Adagio sostenuto, making us forget its melody's later pop notoriety while reminding us that it is still one of music's most beautiful nocturnes this side of Chopin. Doe's encore was the perfect sorbet after a solid main course: a cool, chiselled take on Eve Castro-Robinson's White Interior.
If Ringborg drew some impressive sounds from his orchestra for Rachmaninov, absolutely nothing was held back for Erich Korngold's sumptuous 1952 symphony. For a composer who made his name on Hollywood screens in the 1930s and 40s, this massive score is a strange beast, resolutely backward-looking at a time when the great modernist composers Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen were the young Turks of music.
Inevitably, with the APO horns in fine fettle, there were moments that might have accompanied film-star Errol Flynn in his swashbuckling heyday, along with bewitching evocations of very Teutonic fairylands. Ringborg obviously loves this music and it showed, conveying the gladiatorial tussle of its scherzo as well as the elemental power of a slow movement that tributes the late Franklin D. Roosevelt.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 2
Where: Auckland Town Hall