Marian Poole, Piano Teacher and Music Critic.

Review of a Michael Houstoun performance of Nock a composition

Pure Nock: Wanaka Festival of Colour, 29 April 2007

Houstoun playing Nock's compositions touched the sublime for the capacity audience at the Festival's final event. Twelve pieces were presented in four brackets, with comments from Nock in between. All the pieces show links to the melancholic souls of Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Satie with homage to Chopin and Bach. Each piece is well structured and graceful with an individuality for which Nock, the composer, deserves greater recognition. Bestowed with Houstoun's sensitivities, they became exquisite. While no one work stands out, some deserve special mention: "Ringstone Round" for its scintillating descending lines, "In the Time of Sakura" for its depiction of confetti-like cherry blossom, "Sho"s Cradlesong" for its Satie-like understatement, "Afterbach" for its technical challenge, "Serenity" for being the stuff of dreams and "Cartwheels" for its artful tumbling.

However, after being "blown away" by Houstoun's performance, Nock acknowledged that he had set himself an impossible act to follow. Nock's improvisations, though clever and musical, did suffer from the inevitable comparison just as he knew they would. Had they opened the program, his art, that of thinking with the fingers, straying into distant rhythms and melodies, if not tonalities, and artfully returning to the first idea, might have avoided sounding sometimes wayward and heavy-handed.

Nock's compositions reveal the advantage of an art which results from contemplation, which can be edited in such a way as to avoid dulling the ear, for an effective and structured story. This is not to suggest that even the great composers do not indulge in musical doodling while waiting for a better idea. And it is worth remembering that while Houstoun has the skills to define Nock's compositions, Houston refrains from launching into improvisation. In the end, comparison of such differing styles is misleading. Each to his own whether it be interpretation or exploration and Bravo to both.