It was so good to have Giordano Bellincampi, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's music director, back in town, conducting a programme with a title that spelt out its audience appeal in just three words, Ehnes Plays Bruch.

James Ehnes is a regular and popular soloist with the APO and, this time around, the Canadian violinist's appearance coincides with judging duties in the Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

His absolute assurance in dispensing Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto suggested that, perhaps, we should not be too quick to corral this score into the warhorse stable.

Opening cadenzas were irresistibly persuasive and we were easily dazzled by his unerring doubt-stopping when the tempo took off. Streamlined passage work was as diaphanous as the best of Mendelssohn and, in the creamy Adagio, one felt the passion of his playing inspiring the orchestral strings around him. And it's not every violinist who can deliver sizzling Gypsy fire in Bruch's finale without losing his elegant cool.

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Ysaye's third solo sonata, known as Ballade, was a breathtaking encore, as Ehnes created his own compelling narrative, surging through its forbidding forest of virtuosity.

The programme presented a century of German romanticism, introduced by the incandescent beauty of Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings.

Written in the last months of World War II, this complex and lush score looks back to glories that once were and, metaphorically, tries to bring together the threads unravelled by conflict. It was a special joy to see and hear individual players make their solo contributions to a piece that evokes the same pathos as Samuel Barber's Adagio for strings.

The solid symphony, after interval, was Schumann's Third; too compositionally stolid for me in its marching finale. But what other symphony can equal the swinging energy of its first movement – just imagine Beethoven's Eroica on a rollercoaster — an image that came to mind with the lithe Bellincampi, channelling every rhythmic twist and snap through his hands, arms and body.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Ehnes Plays Bruch
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewed by: William Dart