Initially I had misgivings at the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra rounding off 2018 with two Beethoven symphonies when all nine will be rolled out for next year's Beethoven Festival.

However, a generously filled town hall and standing ovations confirmed that Beethoven remains boffo box office and the absolute mastery of conductor Edo de Waart was an unarguable bonus.

The pairing of the first and last symphonies placed a young composer bursting from the shadows of Haydn alongside the archetypal romantic hero, isolated in deafness, rending the world asunder.

The poised Adagio molto of the First Symphony had de Waart weighing every chord and nuance with an apothecary's precision, just as he adroitly balanced the second movement's mix of counterpoint and country dance.

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Schumann caught the mysteries of Beethoven's final symphony with an image of a blind man, standing before Strasbourg Cathedral, able to hear its bells but unable to find its entrance.

De Waart opened many doors in the jagged procession of primal blasts and heavenly poetry that comprise the first movement of this Choral Symphony. Its scherzo was a fireball, full of fury and goading humour while the charged tranquillity of its slow movement gave out premonitions of Mahler.

The choral finale may be a celebration of freedom but here it was also a celebration of our own musicians, especially Voices NZ Chamber Choir, with men sturdily scaling craggy lines and sopranos equally fearless in unrelentingly high terrain.

Four splendid Kiwi soloists — Madeleine Pierard, Kristin Darragh, Simon O'Neill and Anthony Robin Schneider — projected well over some fearsome orchestral storms, their heartstopping flourishes lending this hymn to freedom an edge of defiance.

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