Schumann and Chopin birthday treats
Recital in the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber
Reviewer: William Dart
The New Zealand Herald, 6 September 2010
Michael Houstoun had described his Friday evening recital as a bicentenary celebration of Schumann and Chopin, but the first sounds we heard were Bach, whose celebrated C major Prelude, beautifully understated, surreptitiously segued into Schumann's Arabeske. The joys of the latter piece come when Schumann is distracted from its main theme and Houstoun made the most of them. A second interlude, in the minor, had a dash of Hungarian to it; an evanescent coda took us to the very soul of its composer.
The 1838 Kreisleriana is a florid bouquet of romantic rhapsodies inspired by Schumann's thwarted passions for Clara Wieck. This, Schumann told his Clara, was the favourite of all his piano works. I suspect Houstoun is particularly fond of it too, navigating its mercurial shifts of mood and tone so well, from the fierce, elusive rhythm play of the opening piece to what is almost a Tristanesque meltdown in the second. The peak of this transcendent performance came in the Molto lento section of the sixth piece, where Houstoun seemed taken over by the music he was making, totally caught up in Schumann's private and sometimes cryptic emotional world.
After interval, it was Chopin's turn and the B flat minor Sonata found Houstoun ably harnessing the cumulative power of its first movement. Moments of respite allowed for a dream-laden second theme that gently reminded us there were Nocturnes to come later in the evening. The initial roars of Chopin's Scherzo melted as they should into iridescent sparkle; the funeral march was pin-drop time, the pianist's languorous pedal casting a beguiling haze over its Trio; the Finale a gleam of quicksilver.
In the two Opus 37 Nocturnes, Houstoun dealt out uncluttered lyricism in the first, and, by dint of his personality, had Chopin's sometimes forced modulations in the second seeming as natural as song itself.
Four Etudes from Opus 25, closing with the final C minor piece of the set, revealed a virtuosity and musicianship unrivalled on these shores.
Comment: Thankyou, William! This recital was the first event in a three-part celebration of Schumann and Chopin. I delivered a lecture on the two composers the following morning. To read it click here. MH