A few bars into the Auckland Philharmonia's performance of Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, it was evident that Italian conductor Marco Zuccarini was ringing a few changes with a concert-hall favourite.

Its Adagio introduction came with an emotionalism almost Romantic in its intensity, while the Allegro was not all scurrying swiftness, but rather a miracle of self-possession.

Programming the half-dozen German Dances of Kochel 600 was a masterstroke, even if the chromatic twists in the first dance were a test for the first violins.

Zuccarini gave each piece its character, whether Mozart was evoking court ballroom or village inn. Tempi were cleverly toyed with, even within the one dance, most deliciously when strings played coquette to brass provocations in the final trio.

In Mozart's Linz Symphony much was magnificently made of its grand introduction, with Zuccarini ever alert to the inner rhythms of the score. Particularly appreciated were a spry second movement and the Finale a-whirl with rushing semiquavers and cheeky humour.

After interval Debussy's Prelude a l'Apres-Midi d'un faune was a thing of ineffable beauty. To say that the orchestra was its very best would be a gross understatement; there was so much to savour from sharply etched woodwind solos to the sweep of strings. The Aotea acoustics were remarkably generous to the subtle touches of harps and antique cymbals.

Zuccarini was ever the showman, his baton stabbing at pointillist colours and tracing flamboyant patterns in the air to capture the colours of the French composer's palette.

An unexpected bonus was a Notturno by the Italian composer Martucci, played con molto sentimento, with an expressive cello solo from Jeremy Turner.

Mahler's Kindertotenlieder proved another triumph for Helen Medlyn. Whenever Medlyn performs, she brings the theatre with her - and tonight was no exception. Here and there, images and lines were given extra weight by the clasping of hands or a passing gesture.

For 20 minutes, the mezzo was also in absolute vocal control, from the sinuous opening lines of "Nun wie die Sonn" through to the bitterness of the storm-tossed "In diesem Wetter".

Behind her, the players were fine colleagues, from moments of transparent chamber music to trenchant trills and tremolos for the final number.

What: Auckland Philharmonia
Where: Aotea Centre