What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
Reviewer: William Dart
An atmosphere of exhilaration and musical camaraderie took over the town hall for Thursday night's Reflections concert, making it seem like a grand post-lockdown welcome for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's returning music director Giordano Bellincampi.
The maestro's expressive hands moulded Debussy's Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune as a sculptor might; the players responded sensitively to the ebb and flow, punctuating lushness with points and strands of colour.
The strength of Gary Kulesha's new Oboe Concerto must come from it having been written for fellow Canadian Bede Hanley, who relinquished his principal's desk to undertake soloist duties, brilliantly.
My ear was immediately wooed and won over by the Middle Eastern tang of the opening melody, an exotic touch subtly extended by the use of microtones.
There was a wealth of characterful detail in this highly approachable score, and its thematic voyage was clear and able to be navigated. Its scherzo's infectiously shifting rhythms were another winning point, along with a coruscating cadenza from the unfazed Hanley.
An encore wasn't expected after such a breath-challenging concerto, but we were given a spirited Telemann fantasia. Thrillingly projected in quasi-improvisando style, Hanley transported us from eighteenth-century drawing room to present-day Womad arena.
Prokofiev's seventh and final symphony was praised by his friend Shostakovich as "truly joyous and lyrical, with clear and bright harmonies and unusual fresh harmonic language".
On Thursday night, it was all that and more, with Bellincampi taking particularly delight in its almost balletic diversions, especially in the uproarious waltzing of its second movement.
For its finale, the maestro took us rushing through crystalline snow in the troika ride of our lives, opting for the understated final pages that the composer preferred.
The evening did not end here, however. The genial Bellincampi insisted on sending the audience home with a "merry little tune", and did so, with Prokofiev at his most piquant — the march from The Love for Three Oranges.