Austrian composer's symphony performed as a thing of beauty.

Three years ago, Simone Young and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra swept us away with a monumental Bruckner Fifth Symphony.

On Saturday, the Australian conductor returned with the composer's even more monumental Eighth.

Once again, too many empty seats suggested that perhaps the NZSO needs to rethink its twice-used marketing brand, "Cathedral of Sound", before its next Brucknerian venture.

This time we heard the Austrian's final completed symphony in its original 1887 version.

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Disappointingly, a lengthy and diffuse programme note would have had some expecting the hushed coda to the first movement as it is in Bruckner's 1890 revision; instead, we were showered with pages of unrepentant C major jubilation, triple forte.

This primal thrust is an essential feature of Bruckner's music. Young embraced the sheer massiveness of it, Wagnerian tubas and all, as Barbara Hepworth or our own Molly Macalister might have set about creating a great rough-hewn sculpture.

Was the half-hour Adagio the thing of beauty that Young had promised me? It was and, apart from occasional issues with synchronicity, the bloom of the strings was as potent as one could want.

First and second violins dialogued effectively on either side of the conductor.

In the Finale, we might have detoured to Valhalla, shaped and tended with just the right architectural splendour.

At 80 minutes, this symphony can take up the entire evening, as it did in 2007, with the NZSO conducted by Lawrence Renes.

On the night it was preceded by Baiba Skride giving us Sibelius' Violin Concerto.

The Latvian did some lovely things, early on turning to engage with the solo clarinettist and, later in the first movement, thrilling us with a vibrant second cadenza.

Young coaxed full and luscious wind and horn textures in the Adagio, although the performance was let down by Skride's sometime jolty Finale.

Back in 1999, the NZSO found the perfect balance, pairing this Bruckner with a new commission from Eve de Castro-Robinson. Her Pendulums of Blue, half the length of the Sibelius and a dazzling colourfest in its own right, provided a quirky and offbeat preview of Brucknerian pleasures to come.

Concert review

What:

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Where:

Auckland Town Hall

Reviewer:

William Dart