Judging by the almost capacity audience for Stephen De Pledge, Auckland Museum's Fazioli International Piano Recital series has now established itself as one of the city's most rewarding concert initiatives.

De Pledge was almost disarmingly informal, introducing pieces with charming tales of Messiaen's malevolent angels and his own boyhood oboe playing in Bach's St Matthew Passion.

These provided welcome gateways into potentially challenging repertoire, helped by a venue that replaces the starchy formality of the concert hall with the intimacy and friendliness of the salon.

After the gnarly elegance of two Scarlatti sonatas, De Pledge laid out the childhood fantasies of Schumann's Kinderszenen, veering into sometimes startling emotional extremes, resolved in the set's lingering, poetic final piece.

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The pianist fearlessly explored the volatile moods of two of Messiaen's Vingt Regards and dazzled us with a pair of erotic nocturnes woven by Liszt from Petrarch sonnets. Later, an electrifying Bartok sonata had the pungent yearning of its central movement framed by two zesty, storm-tossed dances.

There were virtuoso demands as well in John Rimmer's new Seven Character Sketches, brilliantly dispatched. However, we also heard cool, muscular writing that invoked the shadow of composer Douglas Lilburn through a ghostly haze of pedal, as well as heartrending poignancy in the suspended Bach-tinted beauties of a tribute to the late Jack Body.

What: Stephen De Pledge
Where: Auckland Museum
Reviewer: William Dart