The weekend's three concerts of Beethoven violin and piano sonatas drew smaller audiences than they deserved but, in terms of vision and achievement, this event must be a pinnacle in Chamber Music New Zealand's 52-year history.

Bella Hristova and Michael Houstoun are a partnership of rare sympathy and accord; and they project the sense of discovery and adventure that this music needs, culminating in Saturday's grand finale, a Kreutzer Sonata that, tender moments aside, had the intensity of a ringside sparring match.

The progression through these 10 sonatas was skilfully curated, winning us with the fresh and often frisky Opus 12 pieces.

Throughout, Hristova and Houstoun were completely in tune with Beethoven's bold contrasts, shifting effortlessly from unaffected lyricism to the gruff and the carefully cultivated rustic.


This happened in an enthralling Spring Sonata, its shapely opening melodies followed by a positively chirpy second theme; its scherzo crackled with mischief; its finale tended musical muscularity with soothing rubato.

The highlight was Saturday's Opus 96, Beethoven's final sonata, with an extraordinary first movement that floated, within a few lines, from terse piano stylings to incandescent arpeggio play.

Alas, the thud of Taiko drummers from Aotea Square was an unwelcome intrusion in its heart-melting Adagio. Beethoven may have stormed musical barricades in his time, but this was unforgivable.

What: Michael Houstoun and Bella Hristova

Where: Auckland Town Hall

When: Friday & Saturday