Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's main Town Hall series continues to amaze (and draw very good houses). Here was an orchestral concert with gusto galore, featuring just over an hour of music by three composers writing in the second decade of the last century.

Lili Boulanger was 24 when she wrote D'un matin de printemps, a year before her death in 1918. It's an evocative miniature, penned with a quintessentially Gallic lightness and rightness; significantly, the composer marks one climax to be rendered "without heaviness." French conductor Ludovic Morlot kept it all gloriously airborne, with just the right balance of chiselled precision and evanescent poetry.

Elgar's 1919 Cello Concerto is one of the most powerful responses to the grim horrors of World War I, from the angry outburst of its opening cadenza to the bittersweet lyricism that follows. By the end, stalwart marches imply that the old imperial order is now hollow and irrelevant.

Its heartrending Adagio was the high point in a deeply committed performance by Umberto Clerici. Here, as elsewhere in the concerto, the Italian cellist was almost umbilically connected to the musicians around him, drawing out Elgar's long and sorrowful sighs.


Clerici enjoys communicating with his audience, cheerily chatting as he removed his jacket after a particularly impassioned second movement. Later he wittily introduced an encore by Sicilian composer Giovanni Sollima, a lively musical postcard of the Mediterranean, conjuring up mysterious Arabic chants and wild folkish frenzies.

Stravinsky's Petrushka was premiered in 1911, the second of three ballets that started with The Firebird and ended with the epoch-rocking The Rite of Spring.

Maestro Morlot, with a deceptively cool platform manner, unleashed Stravinsky's energy rush, and a conglomeration of stomping Russian dances, fanfares, waltzes, marches and exotic music spilled off the stage. Ballet music can pall in the concert hall, but not here
especially with the ace American clarinettist Ricard Hawley in the ranks of the APO's spry woodwind section.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall