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NZ Symphony Orchestra at Auckland Town Hall

Cho-Liang Lin
New Zealand Herald

That doyen of violinists, Cho-Liang Lin brought a rare artistry to both of his concerto performances with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra over the weekend, with the NZSO at its glowing best, under Pietari Inkinen.

Friday evening's Barber Concerto saw Lin luxuriating in the emotional outpouring of the work; yet, when he soared, there was also a sense of restraint, something akin to the art of the watercolourist as opposed to that of the painter in oils. We were made aware that this was very much a 20th- century Romanticism rather than the more robust 19th-century variety.

Prokofiev's Second Concerto is spikier fare, yet Lin's opening eight bars were invested with a subtlety of nuance that carried over into the whole work.

Intense communication between Lin and Inkinen meant for a special bond between soloist and orchestra, even if minor rhythmic liberties were taken by the soloist in the second movement. The work's final movement ran the gamut from lumbering waltz to rustic merriment.

Has the NZSO ever programmed anything as eccentric as Henk de Vlieger's symphonic take on Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, which accounted for more than an hour of Friday's programme?

Here was an opportunity for Wagnerians to wallow in the score that so scandalised Clara Schumann that she deemed it the most repugnant music she had ever heard. It may have been "Wagner minus two", presented without singers, but, for 64 minutes, we were thrillingly afloat on an ocean of tumultuous passions.

On Saturday, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition provided a much shorter main feature and the NZSO gave a virtuoso account of it, whirling us around the Tuileries and unleashing all manner of wonderful sonorities to chill us in the Catacombs.

On Friday, the NZSO's revisiting of Jack Body's Melodies rekindled memories of the excitement at its 1983 premiere, with Vesa-Matti Leppanen and Donald Armstrong taking on the duelling fiddles that Peter Schaffer and John Chisholm dispensed on the same stage 26 years ago.

Melodies is Body at his best, at its most beguiling in its mysterious Sumatran centre, and sounding very much up-to-date, for the Slumdog Millionaire generation, in its street-savvy visit to India.

On Saturday, John Psathas's eagerly awaited Olympiad XXVIII Suite simply seemed to arrive five years too late, playing in the wrong venue. These four slices of "occasional music" that doubtlessly served their purpose spectacularly in Athens' Olympic Stadium, proved dull stuff in the Auckland Town Hall, set in an idiom that makes few, if any, advances on a Miklos Rozsa score for a biblical epic.

While such music may be useful to enthuse youth orchestras (or to wow Beijing audiences last year), Saturday night Auckland merits meatier fare.