Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Violin Fantasy concert on Thursday was a clever piece of programming. A well-filled Town Hall enjoyed a Ross Harris premiere as well as a rare and appreciated encounter with Webern; alongside these, the flagrant warhorse of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy balanced Schumann at his most symphonically gripping.
Aria, a new commission from Ross Harris, was an emotionally potent eight minutes, with soloist Robert Ashworth threading his viola line through finely gauged string textures. There was intense, rhapsodical lyricism, and Ashworth caught it beautifully, while attacking the more gnarly outbursts with virtuoso expertise. Aria's lucid structure was there to be heard, unfolding with grace and inevitability. The climax brought a new serenity, heralded by a frank major chord and rich orchestral voicings.
Bruch's Scottish Fantasy is an awkwardly patched-together affair but conductor Giordano Bellincampi and soloist Nikki Chooi made it the musical equivalent of a book that you can't put down.
There was theatre here, as funeral march led to an expansive Adagio cantabile showcasing the sweet-toned Chooi. When the conductor invoked great waves of sound, the violinist rode them like a champion surfer.
In the Finale, Chooi reeled off the expected fireworks with staggering aplomb and a Paganini encore let us marvel yet again at his unerring double-stopping.
Stravinsky famously praised Webern's "diamonds" but the Austrian's 6 Pieces for Orchestra revealed a veritable jewel box of sonic gems, from the liquid glitter of celeste to a quartet of muted trumpets waiting to be discovered by the cool jazz set.
The utter commitment of musicians and conductor was palpable, making us feel more than once the shadow of Brahms in this gorgeous last breath of Romanticism.
How ironic that a composer once described as a "pyschographer of pianissimo dynamics" should have his magical whisperings rudely interrupted by rowdy leakage from the concert chamber's cabaret season next door.
Closing the concert, Schumann's D minor Symphony was a triumph.
Bellincampi almost teased his way into its galloping Allegro; pauses were minimal as we progressed from lingering Romanze to striding Scherzo, ending with a Finale that was the soul of exhilaration.