Michael Houstoun
Michael Houstoun - Reviews

In these pages you will find transcripts of recent printed reviews. At times I will add my own comments, depending on the nature of the criticism or the quality of the writing (watch out if there are spelling mistakes, poor grammar, or shoddy sentence construction!). At other times I may invite visitors to the website to submit their own reviews if they think they can come up with something better….

I might even write my own reviews on occasion! Read on.

"Why, Sir, a fly may sting a stately horse and make him wince. But the one is still a horse, while the other remains a fly."
Dr. Samuel Johnson   

Franz Liszt (to student whilst travelling on a train): "Come and make up a fourth for a game of whist."
Student: "But, revered master, I don't know how to play cards."
Liszt: "Then you can be the critic."

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Musical adventure with enterprising pianists

Mainly 4-hand recital with Gao Ping, University of Canterbury Platform Arts Festival
Reviewed by Michael Lawrence
The Press, 24 May 2010

A quick glance through this varied Sunday afternoon programme showed that this was not to be a traverse through the usual two-piano repertoire of Mozart, Schubert or Rachmaninoff. However, this was hardly surprising given such adventurous and enterprising pianists as Michael Houstoun and Gao Ping...

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Ashley Brown and Michael Houstoun at Raye Freedman Arts Centre

Reviewed by William Dart
The New Zealand Herald, 12 April, 2010

The capacity audience at Epsom's Raye Freedman Arts Centre on Saturday had obviously been unable to resist the lure of two of the country's finest musicians in repertoire rarely heard in the concert hall.

Ashley Brown and pianist Michael Houstoun have few equals as a team. Brown still has the dashing good looks and easy musicianship many remember from his days on the competition circuit. Houstoun, a formidable young talent in his time, is now one of our preeminent musical statesmen.

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Chamber Music Weekend at NZ International Arts festival

Reviewed by Rod Biss
Listener, 20 March, 2010

In the closing recital of the weekend, tenor Keith Lewis and pianist Michael Houstoun presented a new song cycle by Jenny McLeod, Peaks of Cloud, a sequence of six (sic) settings of Janet Frame. Frame's poems are highly individual, quirky and at times enigmatic, and McLeod finds appropriate music for them all. There is a problem, though, in that most often that music is jagged, making frightening demands on Lewis. It is pitched in a high tessitura, even asking for falsetto notes. Lewis' voice is at its most individual and effective up there, but at times he sounded strained. In the final two settings, McLeod was moved to be more lyrical and Lewis produced memorable phrases of hushed singing. But strangely it was the piano part that drew from McLeod the most vivid, jazzy, dark and at times impressionistic writing - all lovingly, brilliantly played by Houstoun.

The recital also included music by Purcell, Britten and Barber; Britten's settings of W H Auden, On This Island, were exciting, inspired writing for both voice and piano that reminded us how thrilling a great modern song cycle can be; Lewis and Houstoun gave the work the most polished singing of the evening.

(Comment: Jenny actually set seven Frame poems for Peaks of Cloud.)


Triumph for perfect pairing

Recital with Keith Lewis (tenor)
Reviewed by John Button
DomPost 9 March, 2010

This concert was an important reminder that Simon O'Neill is not the only New Zealand tenor who occupies a place on the world's operatic and recital stages.

Keith Lewis has been a top performer for many years, singing in all the world's main opera houses and with the top conductors. And when he returns to New Zealand he invariably continues a partnership, developed over many years, with Michael Houstoun, and this varied recital showed the close rapport that has developed between them.

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Imaginative Taddei deserves success

Vector Wellington Orchestra
Reviewed by John Button
DomPost 24 November, 2009 (extract)

"Marc Taddei and his Wellington players have become a great success story in a short time. Taddei's programming is imaginative, his demeanour infectious and his skill has seen a distinct increase in playing standards. And together they draw full houses, this concert being no exception, helped by the chance to hear Michael Houstoun end his series of the Beethoven piano concertos with the Emperor.

This concerto - the Fifth in E flat - has become a signature work for Houstoun, and this was a magnificent performance: magisterial in the first movement, deeply poetic in the second and marvellously propulsive in the finale. The orchestra, urgently led by Taddei..."

COMMENT: Once again Mr Button lies about the house which was not full. What else is he lying about? Will he ever learn to stop telling lies? It is yet another indicator that integrity has a very low priority within the arts community in New Zealand. It is not that long ago that our Minister of Arts dismissed as of no account the fact that she had signed a painting she didn't paint. And now a prominent author, Witi Ihimaera, has been fully exposed as a plagiarist, and yet not only manages to keep his position as a Distinguished Professor at the University of Auckland but is rewarded for his cleverness with a $50,000 award from the Arts Foundation. It is outrageous and shameful and makes me want to pretend that I come from Antarctica, or Rarotonga, or anywhere but New Zealand. MH


Polished, stylish and well-balanced beauty

Vector Wellington Orchestra in Wellington
Reviewed by John Button
DomPost, 14 September 2009 (extract)

"Perhaps because this programme had been played the night before in Masterton, this was the Wellington Orchestra's most polished playing of the year.....Michael Houstoun has never played better. This performance of Beethoven's poetic masterpiece - the Fourth Piano Concerto - was special. Poetry and temperament in perfect balance, inflected, relaxed, yet crisply stylish playing. Houstoun was in control of his instrument. His mastery of dynamics, so crucial in this concerto, was breathtaking. The orchestra backed him with playing to match. The audience responded with fervour....."

COMMENT: What a difference a day makes (see review below)! MH


Fine musicianship...and at last a use for those dancers

Vector Wellington Orchestra in Masterton
Reviewed by Howard Smith
Wairarapa Times-Age, 15 September 2009 (extract)

".....Michael Houston (sic), one of New Zealand's top "virtuoso" pianists, was soloist in Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto, the most strikingly beautiful of all five works. He performed (on the borrowed Michael Fowler Centre Steinway) with breathtaking, cut-glass clarity and decisive orchestral support. On the debit side, however, Houston's (sic) pianism was "hard-edged" and noticeably short on warmth - so vital in this of all concertos....."

COMMENT: Regarding the headline, there were three dancers who performed during Astor Piazzolla's Tangazo which opened the concert. MH


APO at Auckland Town Hall

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Reviewed by William Dart
NZ Herald (online), 7 September 2009 (extract)

".....The partnership of pianist Michael Houstoun and conductor (Eckehard) Stier in Beethoven's Fourth Concerto was a memorable one. Using the APO's own Steinway instead of the Town Hall instrument, Houstoun brought a special incisiveness to the swirling decorations of Beethoven's first movement, turning the composer's own cadenza into a dramatically volatile fantasia.

The partnership was best caught in the Andante con moto, in which Houstoun calmly worked his conciliatory and chordal wiles on a stern orchestra, before joining it in a particularly frisky final movement, its second theme offering premonitions of Copland's lonely landscapes.

The encore was another pairing, totally in keeping with what had gone before, with conductor and pianist sharing the piano stool for a tongue-in-cheek flit through Rachmaninov's Polka Italienne."

COMMENT: I could say quite a bit about why we used the APO Steinway, but for now I've decided to fume and rage in private. MH


Houstoun recital a twilight treat for concert-goers

Taranaki International festival of the Arts
Taranaki Daily News, 10 August, 2009
Reviewed by Allan Purdy

"The Theatre Royal was full at the last Twilight Series concert of the Taranaki Festival of the Arts yesterday as Michael Houstoun, supreme master of the keyboard, gave a perfectly balanced programme of great piano music by Bach, Brahms, Debussy and Chopin..."

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Beautiful and brilliant music on the theme of B

Vector Wellington Orchestra
DomPost 27 July, 2009
Reviewed by John Button (extract)

"...Michael Houstoun continued his journey through the Beethoven Piano Concertos with a superb performance of the Third Concerto. Beautifully balanced, relaxed yet pointed, this was Beethoven-playing out of the top drawer.
So good was it that I am inclined to suggest that this was Houstoun playing Beethoven as never before, and he was solidly backed by Taddei and his appropriately sized orchestra..."


Captivating Performance

Wairarapa News, July 1, 2009
Reviewed by Eric Turner

A last-minute surge in bookings, perfect acoustics, and above all a superb performance by seasoned professionals added up to an evening of chamber music last Friday that would be hard to beat.

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Concert falls short of expectations

Vector Wellington Orchestra
Reviewed by John Button
DomPost 18 June 2009

"....Michael Houstoun continued his cycle of the Beethoven Piano Concertos with No.2 and he played it to the manner born. With playing that was relaxed, yet taut at the same time, this was as distinguished as we have come to expect, and the orchestra gave sympathetic support..."

COMMENT: I guess the headline does not refer to the piano concerto. MH


Our new Straussian star

Vector Wellington Orchestra
Reviewed by Garth Wilshere
Capital Times 17-23 June 2009

"...The Beethoven Piano Concert (sic) No.2 from Michael Houstoun was a revelation of poetic and transparent textures. A magical interpretation..."

COMMENT: The headline refers to the lovely Aivale Cole who sang the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss in the same concert. MH


Nock and Houstoun the perfect pairing

Wellington Jazz festival
Wellington Town Hall, Saturday 7 March 2009
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman (extract)

"Mike Nock, the Kiwi-born pianist now based in Australia, began his shared concert with Michael Houstoun by performing a range of jazz standards (John Lewis' Django, a touch of Bill Evans) and his own composition, Sunrise.

There is always a surprise in the percussive way in which Nock strikes the keys; the space between notes being left to say as much as the chords that sing out brightly.

Houstoun - arguably our greatest classical pianist - replaced Nock to perform works from his album Inland; the instrumental pieces, all composed by Nock, straddling the lines between jazz piano and classical ideas. It was special to see Nock and Houstoun together.

Dhafer Youssef is a Tunisian oud player....."


Marriage of opposites a perfect entree

Vector Wellington Orchestra
Wellington Town Hall, Saturday 18 April 2009
Reviewed by John Button (extract)

"..........So it was no surprise to find a full hall for this enterprising concert.....

With good reason they also loved Michael Houstoun's performance of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto. This was wonderfully stylish playing, perfectly balanced, never mannered, completely understanding and totally assured technically. This might sound dull, but it was the opposite - completely alive. With the longer of the cadenzas in the first movement, and sympathetic orchestral backing, this was the perfect entree to a year in which Houstoun will play all five of the Beethoven concertos.

The concert ended triumphantly with Janacek's......."

COMMENT: When is a review not a review? I have included the first sentence in this extract less because it is an outright lie than because it announces an agenda which essentially voids the review of any significance. If Mr Button had stood up at his seat in the stalls and turned his head he would have seen what was clear to me as I walked on to play, namely that a large number of seats in the back of the stalls were unoccupied. Why lie about this? It strikes me that Mr Button has taken it upon himself to use his review to support and promote the VWO. As admirable as this may seem, it has come at the expense of the truth, and in the end it is patronising. When is a review not a review? - when it is a PR exercise. MH


Concert with CSO in Christchurch

Reviewed by Ian Dando for The Listener
January 17, 2009 (extract)

"....Full marks to Michael Houstoun for choosing a rarity in Saint-Saëns' Concerto No.5 (The Egyptian). It is facile and over-eclectic yet finely crafted, the sort of work you'd be happy to hear once every three years. Houstoun coloured the middle movement's Egyptian flavour evocatively and dispatched the finale's demanding bravura with ease. The orchestra played an almost symphonic role that Southgate shaped strongly."


Concert with the NZSQ in Napier

Reviewed by Peter Williams in Hawkes Bay Today
20 September 2008 (extract)

"........An undoubted highlight of the programme was when pianist Michael Houstoun joined in the performance of the exciting Piano Quartet in c minor by Fauré - an overtly romantic composition with enormous audience appeal. Together the four players made a formidable combination.
Throughout the performance, the balance between strings and keyboard was ideal, particularly in the Scherzo.
The delicacy of melodic shaping of every expressive nuance was a feature of the slow movement, while the intensity and brilliance of the playing in the Finale made a spectacular ending."


Concert with Auckland Chamber Orchestra

Reviewed by William Dart in New Zealand Herald
25 November 2008 (extract)

"Michael Houstoun is an authoritative presence on the NZ musical scene and, as guest soloist with the Auckland Chamber Orchestra, he caught the youthful brio of Beethoven's B flat concerto.
The pianist dovetailed his lines through and around those of his orchestral colleagues, with particular grace and discretion in the Adagio. In the zesty Finale, he seemed to be taking an almost conspiratorial lead.
The orchestra etc...."


A journey worth repeating

Journeys - Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
Christchurch Town Hall
Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd
The Press, November 3, 2008

As far as journeys go, this is one I would eagerly take again. Michael Houstoun was simply stunning, the orchestra and Sir William Southgate were in top form, and the programme was varied and well balanced...

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Houstoun’s bleak view of sonatas

Review of recital given for WCMS on 13 July, 2008
Appeared in DominionPost on 17 July, 2008
Reviewer: Lindis Taylor

Michael Houstoun has been a leading artist in Wellington’s Sunday afternoon concerts since the beginning in 1983...

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14th Manawatu MayDay Concert

Saturday 3 May 2008
The Guardian review
Reviewed by Christin Watson

An eery silence reigned during Michael Houstoun’s beautiful playing of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ right up to when this patron of the Regent stood and bowed, then the heavens opened to thunderous applause...

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Prime performance from Southern Sinfonia, pianist

Southern Sinfonia Concert, Dunedin Town Hall
Otago Daily Times
Saturday 19 April 2008
Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman

A city the size of Dunedin is truly blessed with a symphony orchestra of the calibre of the Southern Sinfonia....

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Review of INLAND (Rattle)

March 15, 2008
Reviewer Ian Dando

Michael Houstoun’s architectural expertise with large piano works enables him to get the broad picture and dramatic momentum of Douglas Lilburn’s expansive Chaconne. This is Houstoun at full peak. He likes those who “start at the first bar and actually develop something”...

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Brahms festival highlight to die for

New Zealand International Arts Festival concert
Review in The Dominion Post
Monday, March 10, 2008
Reviewer Lindis Taylor

Considering myself a paid-up Schumann groupie since my teens, I particularly looked forward to this concert...

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Review of INLAND (Rattle)

Waikato Times
19 January 2008
Reviewed by June Joyce

If you are hesitant to tackle New Zealand composers for fear they might be unintelligible, or maybe they have passed you by, Michael Houston (sic) has come up with a beauty...

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HCMS: Michael Houstoun performs Beethoven

WEL Academy of Performing Arts
Saturday 17th November 2007
Reviewed by Andrew Buchanan-Smart

Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas Opus 30, 31, and 32 are arguably the cornerstones of the piano repertoire...

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Rapturous hour with the masters

University Music Theatre
29 October, 2007
Reviewed by William Dart

Sonatas provide perfect score for two musicians to turn on a dazzling display

Cellist Ashley Brown and pianist Michael Houstoun are musicians of unimpeachable artistry and it was inspiring to experience them in tandem on Wednesday evening playing Beethoven and Brahms sonatas.

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Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra at Auckland Town Hall

Auckland Town Hall
Thursday October 25, 2007
Reviewed by William Dart

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's final concert of its APN News & Media Premier Series attracted one of its best audiences to date. But then, how could a programme that featured Michael Houstoun as soloist and the spectacular Holst's The Planets fail?

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