Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Cityscapes was not limited to music of urban grandeur and high-rise skylines. The opening piece, Jennifer Higdon's 2002 river sings a song to trees, fitted in well with the US composer's vision of Atlanta as a "giant green carpet with buildings poking out".
Framed by intriguingly inventive percussion play, this extremely accessible score, while not lacking in subtlety and craft, very much reflected the music of the last century, in a generous scoop from Debussy to classic Hollywood.
The orchestra responded enthusiastically to the verdant lushness of it all, while conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto expertly balanced intricate detail and visceral big-screen climaxes.
After the interval, Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony took us back to the English capital of a century ago, in a musical style that juxtaposed Brit heartiness with pastoral poetry. If, in its final movement, the harp evokes the chimes of Big Ben, then a lyrical solo from concertmaster Andrew Beer also reminded us the music came from the pen that wrote A Lark Ascending.
For all the transcendent beauty of its second movement, introduced by Martin Lee's vibrant cor anglais over tremulous muted strings, I suspect that, for many, this symphony was a rip-roaring orchestral showcase. Blistering triple forte roars in the first movement, the spiky, perhaps malign jig of the third, and a grand blustering finale, with more than a hint of Elgar in its bars, would eventually be rewarded with tumultuous applause.
Mid-concert we had been transported from the city to the drawing room for Mozart's rather pretty Concerto for Flute and Harp, featuring the orchestra's own Melanie Lancon and Ingrid Bauer as extremely able soloists.
This is a slight work, far from the Olympian heights of the piano concertos. Yet, with its focus on two soloists, it deals out a special intimacy, memorably caught in a whimsical cadenza for its final movement, written by New Zealand composer Kenneth Young.
What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Cityscapes
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart