Bramwell Tovey's Time Tracks was a blunt, noisy launch for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Aotearoa Plus, its annual concert of "cutting-edge contemporary".

Tovey, conducting with Grammy-winning pizzazz, introduced his own suite at some length, but this was trite stuff.

It sounded like a succession of cues for a film soundtrack, the conductor's honky-tonk piano solos offering at least some respite from the bedlam of banality.

Stephen De Pledge had a proper Steinway for Magnus Lindberg's Piano Concerto No 2, an energetically rambling tussle between soloist and orchestra, sanctioned by its composer as "postmodern style-hopping".


Its half-hour was redeemed by Lindberg's wit and affection. And when bewilderment threatened, the assuring glow of major and minor would fall upon us, as if Rachmaninov himself were beaming through the clouds.

De Pledge was the charismatic virtuoso here and his encore, a Tone-Clock Piece by Jenny McLeod, brought on the clarity of very Antipodean primal light.

Christopher Blake's new Symphony - Voices, inspired by T.S. Eliot's freewheeling 1922 poetic saga The Waste Land, presented a series of brilliantly conceived and scored visions.

This composer knows how to blend disparate elements. The first movement worked from a quartet of horns subtly sharing one single note to a rapturous outburst from Wagner's Tristan.

In the bluesy second movement, Simon Brew's saxophone soared through pungent woodwind in an atmosphere suffused with smoke and regrets, well catching the poet's vision of a rat's alley where the dead men lose their bones.

The central movement, based on the blind Tiresias, proposed questions in pizzicato, and answered them with brass chorale.

Blake's sure sense of colour never missed.

The final resolution of this magnificent score was spiritual, cerebral, visceral and symphonic, celebrating a journey that far too small an audience had taken.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Where: Auckland Town Hall