In his speech prefacing the second half of this concert, the third of the Auckland Chamber Orchestra's series for 2015, orchestra board chairman Frank Olsson correctly emphasised the group's dedication to performing unusual repertoire in unfamiliar combinations. This was a case in point; probably Bach's most popular keyboard concerto bookended with a short tango-inspired piece by popular contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov and a relatively rarely heard Haydn symphony. As usual, the performances here were thoroughly committed, but repeated cases of uncertain intonation and rhythmic imprecision prevented them from reaching the heights the audience have experienced in earlier programmes.

As an entrée to the Bach, we were served Golijov's quarter-hour Last Round, penned as a tribute to master of the tango Astro Piazzolla after the latter's fatal stroke. Piazzolla was known for getting into fistfights hence Golijov's chosen title being a boxing metaphor. And the first of two movements is combative indeed, two string quartets (violins and violas standing) facing each other, separated by a double bass as they seem to hurl battling phrasing at one another. The Auckland Chamber Orchestra attacked this movement with surging passion and enthusiasm but also a fair amount of rhythmic imprecision that considerably affected the final impact of the piece. More effective was the languorous and slow second movement, the ensemble sound seeming to take on overtones of the bandoneon in the nigh-on-everlasting phrases. There's no doubt that Last Round makes for both a musically accessible and visually entertaining experience. One might feel a slight lack of musical substance but still, as an opening piece it had drama and emotion aplenty, ghostly slow descending glissandi being particularly successful musical effects.

Anyone who was present at his fascinating talk-cum-performance exploration of the Art of Fugue a couple of years ago would be excited at the prospect of keyboardist Indra Hughes taking on the Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1052. Probably derived originally from a (now lost) violin concerto, Bach's masterpiece begins with a dark and stormy opening movement with Hughes here offering a resolute, solid rendition of Bach's highly virtuoso solo part with effective use of his two manuals. A moment of awkward disconnect with the orchestra in the opening bars was soon forgotten. He was at his best in the sprightly last movement where Bach's technical demands are at their most fiendish. In an interview prior to the concert, Hughes noted that he had counted over 9000 semiquavers in the solo part of this work, and he showed admirable adeptness at getting the dizzying passagework out with great finesse. It was a shame that the orchestra was never quite able to match Hughes' crispness, instead suffering from inexact intonation and some approximate rhythms. The second movement was the most severe case, Hughes alert and nuanced phrasing contrasting with the dull, almost ponderous responses of the orchestra, musical coherency only existing in the solo harpsichord part. The instrument Hughes performed on was quiet – even for a harpsichord – meaning that in tutti passages he was rather swamped by the orchestra, more inaudible than acting as part of the texture as one would prefer.

Though the reason for the “Mercury” nickname is still a mystery, Haydn's Symphony no. 43 in E flat major is a charming work written for his ensemble at Esterhaza suitable for a group of chamber proportions such as this. A repeated note figure ties together the melodic material of the first three movements though each maintains its own individual mood. Sturm und Drang permeate the opening subject of the first and here the Auckland Chamber Orchestra was transformed, discarding its previous hesitancy for rhythmic alertness and a strong ear for dynamic contrast. Conductor Peter Scholes brought out all the geniality and muted lyricism of the second movement before embarking on the rather robust minuet and trio with just the right amount of forthright attack. Horns and oboes shone in their few major opportunities. These first three movements were delightful, but the last was much the most musically engaging movement, full of vigour in its rapid descending figurations. Its theatrical development was explored with vivid drama by Scholes, bring the concert to the close in a more favourable light than the Bach and Golijov that came before.