Marian Poole, Piano Teacher and Music Critic.

Review of a Michael Houstoun performance

Houstoun plays Beethoven at the Wanaka Festival of Colour, 28 April 2007

A capacity house was treated to an excellent performance of Beethoven works by Michael Houstoun. A lightness in the left hand and a strength in the right to carry the melodies and sufficient weight in both to do supreme justice to Beethoven's frustrations. Though the works are from another era and another continent they speak in an enduring Romantic language of the common and not-so-common stuff of life, the melancholy of old age and the happier memories.

Sonata in E Op 109 transports the listener along a journey of mixed emotions, sometimes gruff, hopeful, detached and resigned which return inevitably to its opening delightfully naive melody.

Bagatelles 2, 3, 4 and 5 from Op 126 seem to depict the life of the street, opening with surprising playfulness, crisp, punchy chords, then mellow chords, broken trills and oscillating intervals, here performed with crystal clarity. No 4 also surprises with an almost jazzy syncopation, suggesting that even Beethoven can be successfully swung. There was the allusion of a street organ grinder and a dance tune with ground bass heard in snatches as if from a distance. No 5 tells a sweet story in with conversational lilt and minor inflection. All pieces were a perfect delight.

Sonata in a flat ended the programme on the best note of all. Though the work is well-known, Houstoun's lighter touch, strong melodic highlights and overall reserve never detracted from the work's sudden furies, but made it all the more beautifully pathetic. The first movement protests but acquiesces. The second demands greater petulance and perhaps greater virtuosity which faltered slightly. The third grieves with insistent but fated high-handedness, while the fourth fugued itself intriguingly in and out of complications of its own making.

This inspiring display of Houstoun's interpretative and technical prowess as a master of the Beethoven temperament deserved the standing ovation given it by a most appreciative audience.