Houstoun in fine touch with sonatas
Beethoven ReCycle Programme Four
Wellington Town Hall, 30 June 2013
Reviewed by John Button, DomPost, 3 July 2013
After the first three concerts in Michael Houstoun's return to Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas, which were held in the dryness of the Ilott Concert Chamber, we enjoyed the fourth in the lovely open acoustics of the town hall. And how it suited the name sonata in this recital, No.23 in F minor, Op.57 'Appassionata'.
Here was wonderfully fiery playing, fully the equal of any Houstoun has given of it in the past, with perhaps an even greater judgment of dynamics on a piano that must have shuddered in anticipation.
But it was the other sonatas in a programme very skilfully chosen that were, for me, really memorable. The lead into the 'Appassionata' was the deceptively light-hearted No.16 in G, Op.31 No.1 - beautifully poised and full of clarity, this is, like the Second Symphony, a musical contrast to the depression of Beethoven's hearing problems and the famous letter, the Heiligenstadt Testament.
The first half started with the simple No.20 in G, Op.49 No.2 - played with straightforward simplicity, completely right. And then one of the most extraordinary sonatas of them all, the Sonata No.3 in C, Op.2 No.3. This marvellously theatrical, harmonically and rhythmically adventurous sonata was composed when Beethoven was 25 and enjoying a career as a virtuoso keyboard player. Houstoun gave of his finest in this performance, allowing the sonata to reveal a world of opera and theatre in late 18th century Vienna.
The Sonata No.24 in F sharp, Op.78 finished the first half, and with its mixture of easy fluency and outright mischief, the second movement sent us to the interval in contented high spirits.