What a pleasure it is to hear Michael Houstoun relaxing in this collection of French music, just months after the triumph of his Diabelli Variations.

The title of the new disc, Trois, is explained by producer Kenneth Young, taking on liner note duties; the three movements of Ravel's opening Sonatine inspired the pianist to create similar sets of pieces from works by four other French composers.

Erik Satie (1866-1925) scores six tracks. His well-known three Gymnopedies, played with unexpected but effective deliberation, are each paired with one of his gnarlier Gnossiennes. Spread throughout the album, they're like sweet and bitter sorbets between courses in a classy degustation.

Houstoun can't resist giving Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) a double inning. First up, three Nocturnes are launched with evanescent dreams in E flat minor; a later set of three, lightened with a dash of the salon, features a Barcarolle that's really a closet waltz.


The Sonatine of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) is relatively familiar repertoire and here Houstoun is the epitome of cool, even when catching what the composer described as the deep curtsy ending the minuet movement.

Three Images oubliees by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) are curiosities, unpublished until 1977. The sonic wizardry of Steve Garden ensures harmonic luxuriance and Houstoun has a romp when the composer dallies wittily with an innocent French nursery rhyme.

If you're hankering for a touch of C major, the first of Poulenc's Trois Novelettes offers just that, until the harmonies start to wander . . . deliciously. Houstoun guides us with just the right degree of suave nonchalance, but be prepared for hijinks to come, when the second piece lets loose with a 95-second blast of surrealist music hall.

What: Michael Houstoun, Trois (Rattle, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: New Zealand pianist makes a stylish French connection