Classical review: Houstoun's homage to Beethoven

By William Dart

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Pianist's unerring fingers draw magic from composer's 32 sonatas.

Michael Houstoun will tackle all Beethoven's 32 sonatas on the  reCYCLE  tour. Photo / Kate Whitley Photography
Michael Houstoun will tackle all Beethoven's 32 sonatas on the reCYCLE tour. Photo / Kate Whitley Photography

Michael Houstoun's reCYCLE, with the pianist tackling all 32 Beethoven Sonatas, has begun its historic journey around the country.

Dean Zillwood's portrait on the programme cover caught the determination of this man, revisiting a project first undertaken in 1994.

Inside, Houstoun explains how the impulsive energy of youth has been tempered with, among other things, self-trust.

The concert began with the disarmingly simple Op 49 no 1, treated with no less gravity than mightier works yet to come.

The Andante was moulded with classical precision while the second movement had no fear of dancing hilarity.

In the F major Sonata, Op 10 no 2, one sensed a new brio as Houstoun encountered the unexpected twists and turns of its first movement and the Finale was a spinning top of a Presto.

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once scorned the B flat Sonata of Op 22 as "the dud of the bunch" but Houstoun, with unerring fingers and pedalling, drew sonic bewitchery out of its whirring scales.

An Adagio that needed no apologies was sumptuously textured, its long singing melodies buoyantly aloft.

The Tempest Sonata turned on some magnificent storms, chartered by a pianist in deep communion with his instrument. Mysterious recitatives sheltered in pedalled mists, safe from striding bolts of sound.

In its Schubertian Adagio, Houstoun made us aware of the crucial silences and spaces between the notes.

Saturday's concert was to have ended with the A major Op 101 Sonata.

After an immaculately voiced opening, Houstoun enjoyed some lusty premonitions of Schumann in swaggering march time.

Despite being introduced by the shameful piping of a cellphone, the Adagio came with just the requisite yearning of Beethoven's "sehnsuchtsvoll" directive, a beatific calm before Houstoun's marvellous meld of high counterpoint and low rondo frolics in the finale.

On Friday a broken piano string, investing the first movement of the Waldstein Sonata with an unwanted honky-tonk clang, was unable to be corrected.

On Saturday Houstoun generously completed the Sonata, the magisterial sweep of its finale reminding me of Zillwood's penetrating image of a musician who, like Beethoven, is in love with the sheer primacy of sound.


What: Michael Houstoun
Where: Town Hall Concert Chamber

- NZ Herald

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