Was it high-flying Classical Brits star Nicola Benedetti who brought out the Friday night crowds for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra? Or were some of the punters caught by the lure of the concert's title - Forbidden Love.

As it happens, any potentially illicit goings-on were restricted to the second half of the evening.

First up, after interval, were the star-crossed Tony and Maria, whose sorry romance threads through Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya was ineffably hip, with a fetching catalogue of casual gestures to prompt and propel the well-groomed orchestra through this street-savvy musical melange.


The tragic romance of Paolo and Francesca fared less well, their sufferings locked into Tchaikovsky's execrably dull Francesca da Rimini. This is one dreary potboiler, a mix of third-rate tunes and tub-thumping climaxes.

Harth-Bedoya, conducting from memory, coaxed some terrific playing for a distinctly sub-par score.

Opening the evening, Kenneth Young's Dance seemed a curious case for revival. The composer has written meatier fare than this lavishly orchestrated 15-year-old piece, morphing from wafting waltz to what sounded like a preview of the Bernstein to come.

Nicola Benedetti more than lived up to expectations. If one felt the weight of every second of Francesca da Rimini's 25 minutes, then the 36 minutes of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto passed like a dream.

Benedetti exudes a remarkable energy and forthrightness. The construction of the Concerto's lengthy first movement is patchy in places, but it seemed less so tonight. Benedetti treated every entry with the same enthusiasm and freshness; her total engagement with the musicians around her was palpable.

Her ample, effortlessly projected tone would suggest that her 1717 Gariel Stradivarius is well worth its millions. The Scottish violinist won us over with a Canzonetta of compelling warmth and intensity, supported by a conductor and orchestra sensitive to the subtlest of shadings.

Classical music
What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall

When: Friday