Lack of tuning mars sublime act
Beethoven ReCycle Programme Two
Ilott Theatre, Wellington, 14 April, 2013
Reviewed by John Button, The DomPost, 16/4/2013
With this, the second concert in Michael Houstoun's epic traversal of the Beethoven Sonatas, we are almost a third of the way there. And building on the fascination of the first concert, we had confirmation that Houstoun is, these days, an even more complete artist than he was at the time of his first journey 20 years ago.
But, in this concert there were more highs and lows, with the first half absolutely revelatory.
After a lovely uninflated performance of the little sonata in G minor (Op.49 No.1) we had staggering performances of both the F major (Op.10 No.2) and B flat major (Op.22) sonatas; performances that rivalled any Beethoven playing I have heard from any source at any time.
The second half was not quite on this exalted level. Part of the problem was the gradual deterioration of the top end of the piano, to the point where, by the end of the great A major (Op.101) it was disconcertingly tinny and out of tune. I didn't see any work on the piano during the interval and, given the demands this music, and Houstoun's playing, makes, surely tuning and a touch of regulation would have been in order.
Still, we heard a fine performance of the Tempest (Op.31 No.2) highlighted by a lovely, still Adagio. The A major, I hasten to say, was not a disappointment, just not on the exalted level we heard during a sublime period of time in the first half.
(Comment: The piano in fact didn't go out of tune during the concert. For me the Ilott is quite a difficult venue. The piano is on the floor and the audience is tiered above it - one can't aim one's sound at the back wall. Also the acoustic is dry which results in two things: I pedal much more than normal and I am inclined to overplay or at least force the tone. Combined this has particularly bad results in a sonata like Op.101, the last movement of which is difficult to make sound well in any acoustic. Michael Ashby is one of the very best tuners in NZ and I was sorry to see this headline to the review. MH)