HK Philharmonic; Reiko Watanabe, violin; Guenther Herbig, conductor; Cultural Centre, March 1 Two moments from the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto would melt the crown of thorns, and Reiko Watanabe played them with all the appropriate poignancy. Most of the full house audience came for the Mahler First Symphony, but the Barber concerto is one of the great pieces of the 20th century. The touching opening bars are ravishing, and the second movement has the most beautiful theme Barber ever composed. Even more affecting than his more famous Adagio For Strings. Reiko Watanabe, a last-minute substitute for Ann Akiko Meyers, played her Stradivarius with just the right reticence. So delicate are its songs and so modest its orchestration, that the concerto is almost a chamber piece. This was the way Watanabe played it. From the beginning, her lyricism was beguiling, her tone was sweet and gentle, the mood most intimate. Watanabe did not have a fragile tone, and one has little doubt that she can play with a very broad tone when necessary. But her entrance after the second movement oboe solo (another exquisite moment, by Julia Wilson) had the restraint which let the music flower. The Mahler First Symphony is equally tuneful, and it displayed conductor Guenther Herbig getting the most out the Philharmonic. The orchestra's brass section is better this year than ever before, the strings were superb (what a fabulous double-bass solo by Zong Xianquin to begin the third movement), and the orchestra sounded endlessly fresh. Excellent as the orchestra was, I did miss the Mahler emotions. The opening was too un-mysterious, the second movement not quite schmaltzy enough. And the parodistic funeral march, with its fake Jewish-gypsy band sounded too artistic. Never mind. It was fine playing altogether, and the titanic coda actually did lift the audience from their seats.