This concert may have taken its title from Schubert's Great C major Symphony, but we didn't have to wait until after the interval to experience monumental music-making from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart.
First up was American violinist Jennifer Koh, taking us, with brilliance and charm, into the here and now of the contemporary — playing Esa-Pekka Salonen's 2009 Violin Concerto.
This Finnish composer's day job as a top-rung conductor comes through in the ingenuity of his orchestration, ably transformed here into both luminescent backdrop and gladiatorial arena for the dauntless Koh. A log drum, one of the work's diverse hues, made an unexpected Pacific connection.
Salonen's opening movement featured much zooming, in both his own programme notes — which deserve to have been printed in full — and Koh's cadenza-like virtuosity. The central movements, both titled Pulse, lulled us at first over heartbeat timpani and then unleashed a welter of fury described by its composer as urban, bizarre and Californian.
The concerto's finale, with the bittersweet title of Adieu, inspired the ever-persuasive Koh to exquisite lyricism; often of gossamer-like delicacy, but not afraid to bloom in a triple forte climax.
Koh's encore was a Bach sarabande which unfolded with the naturalness of an improvisation, complete with one inadvertent pizzicato.
After interval maestro de Waart was extremely judicious in observing repeats with Schubert's Great Symphony, meaning that the score's "heavenly length", as fellow composer Schumann later praised it, ran at just over 52 minutes.
This work is a curiosity with its shameless repetitions, brutal alternations of orchestral colours and a slow movement which passes over Adagio profundity for a perky, toe-tapping march.
Yet these factors that disturbed so many in the past now, in 2019, when delivered with the panache we heard, have a defiance and a boldness to them that seem very modern; making Schubert, in his way, just as confrontational and provocative as Salonen in one of the finest concerts of the season.
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart