Rapturous applause for fine performance
Beethoven ReCycle Programme Four
Municipal Theatre, Napier, 23 June 2013
Reviewed by Peter Williams, Hawkes Bay Today, 25 June 2013
Bravo! Bravo! The audience was immediately on its feet in rapturous, sustained applause as the last notes sounded at the end of Michael Houstoun's superlative performance of Beethoven's Sonata No.23 in F Minor, Opus 57 'Appassionata'. This is one of the truly great works of the piano repertoire, given a performance which could hardly be bettered.
The nickname Appassionata was not Beethoven's but is appropriate nonetheless. from the brooding first notes of the opening and the immense contrasts of dynamics which follow, the eloquent symmetry and sustained line of the slow movement variations, and the extraordinary momentum developed in the Finale with its shattering presto climax, this was a performance which captured every requirement of technical detail and passionate expression. A performance to store long in the memory.
It was the climax of a programme which was really a microcosm of Beethoven's journey with the development of the sonata and one which continually highlighted the strong contrasts endemic in his music.
It started with the shortest and the easiest sonata technically, the two movements of Sonata No.20 in G Major, played with all the eloquent clarity this music demands, followed by the Sonata in C, Opus 2 No.3, a brilliant extrovert work which gives an insight into Beethoven's prowess as a brilliant pianist when he first arrived in Vienna from Bonn in the 1790s. This was a commanding performance most evident in the cadenza-like passages in the Finale.
The two movement Sonata in F Sharp, Opus 78 was perhaps written for Beethoven's Immortal beloved for there are passages of great tenderness in the first movement and exhilaration in the second, aspects patently obvious in this beautifully expressive performance.
In the second half of the programme, the playing of the Sonata in G, Opus 31 No.1 completely captured the cheeky rhythmic outlines of the first movement, showed exceptional clarity of detail around the extended trills of the slow movement, and generated a powerful forward movement in the quirks of the Finale with its Presto ending - a perfect foil and lead up to the Appassionata Sonata which followed.