How reassuring it was, in the first Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra concert of the year, to be reminded that we are living in the 21st century.

The evening's centre piece concerto — Concentric Paths, written in 2005 by English composer Thomas Ades — was one of the twin peaks of the programme, brilliantly dispatched by Anthony Marwood, the violinist for whom it was written.

Maestro Giordano Bellincampi set off with an invigorating account of Wagner's Die Meistersinger overture, its grandiloquent marches tempered by the sonorous flow of Bachian counterpoint.

There were echoes of Bach, too, in the flickering complexities of Marwood's opening pages but the ear was equally drawn to the shimmering orchestral weave around them. Composer Ades knows how to communicate with his listeners, cleverly anchoring the soloist's jagged scurryings against a broader backdrop of powerful chord progressions.

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The slow movement was almost teasingly tonal as Marwood pursued the poignant and, although the finale set off with lively, dancing rhythms, it was the serenity of the violinist's high register line that caught its soul.

Hearing Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique reminded one how daring this work must have seemed to Parisian audiences in 1830. Almost a century after that, Saint-Saens was astounded that it had remained as young as ever and, in 1969, Leonard Bernstein introduced it to young Americans as a psychedelic trip of its time.

Bellincampi presented it with theatrical acumen, from the magnificent sprawl of its first movement to the swirling ballroom waltz of the second lushly upholstered with four harps. The nuanced dialogue of Martin Lee's cor anglais and Bede Hanley's oboe took us to the countryside in the central movement.

From this point, Bellincampi held nothing back. The March to the Scaffold was so fierce that it drew spontaneous applause after eight fortissimo bars of G major affirmation. And the devilish mélange of the finale, with its raw sounds and precipitous tempi, was dished up with the glee of Grand Guignol.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Fantasy
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart