Sir Andrew Davis prefaced an enthralling Eclairs sur l'au-Dela by saying how privileged he felt to be conducting this Messiaen work for his second and probably last time; an hour later, as the strings signed off in serene A major, players and the audience must have felt similarly blessed.

Drawing on the fine young musicians of its National Youth Orchestra to fill the Aotea stage, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra delivered spectacular coup after coup.

Yet, with quicksilver ecstasies and thundering magnificence, spectacular seems an inadequate description for a score of such deep, spiritual immersion.

We were mesmerised from the start by an organ-like prelude of roving brass and woodwind chords, and not released until Messiaen's string-laden vision of Christ in Paradise.


Wilder moments thrilled, as might be expected from a composer once credited with evoking celestial jazz bands.

A third movement channelled the Australian lyrebird in a zooming criss-cross of clustered synchronicities.

Mahler was not alone in seeing worlds contained within his symphonies; the same happened tonight, from the chilling primitivism of trumpeting angels to the dizzying flurries of 18 woodwind players giving voice to 25 birds, including our own riroriro (grey warbler).

Perhaps prohibitive pricing kept too many away from this historic concert, or was it reservations about an unfamiliar 20th century composer occupying an entire programme?

Overseas orchestras have scheduled Eclairs alongside Mozart, Ades and other composers, restoring a socialising interval and putting Messiaen in a valuable context.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Where: Aotea Centre

When: Saturday