Michael Houstoun at Paekakariki Memorial Hall
Reviewer: Lindis Taylor
Paekakariki Xpressed, 20 August 2010
Michael Houstoun is one of New Zealand's most popular - as well as one of our best - pianists. He gives generously of his talent, playing for small communities as well as in the major concert halls.
There was a full house for this special concert in a series that has become well known throughout greater Wellington (evident from the number of visitors from distant parts) - special because it celebrated the 200th anniversaries of the births of two of the greatest composers for the piano: Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann. All their music was composed in the 1830s and '40s and both were dead by around 1850.
Schumann filled the first half of the concert. His Arabesque, a difficult, whimsical, perhaps dancelike piece, seemed to capture something from the play of the waves outside. The second piece was the half-hour long Kreisleriana, one of Schumann's characteristic multi-movement works that are full of quixotic mood changes, sudden tempo and rhythm changes. They are commonly thought to depict aspects of the composer's own spirit, the contrasts of gaiety and impulsiveness against introspection, even depression. It's a very difficult piece to bring off, but Houstoun proved to have a real affinity with it, as I think he does with Schumann generally. The audience was entranced by his handling of the ever-shifting moods.
Then we heard Chopin's best-known sonata, No.2, which contains the famous Funeral March as its third movement. Although its four movements do not in some ways form a complete whole, all its parts are hugely enjoyable, and in Houstoun's hands they had a real dramatic openness and audience appeal. In its last movement we heard - and saw - world-class virtuosity with its tumbling cascades of notes that were nevertheless mystically shrouded.
Houstoun also played two Nocturnes - a style of piano writing that depicts a mood, often not particularly nocturnal, that Chopin made his own - and four Studies (he wrote 27 of them) that are quite taxing, impressionistic, always tuneful little gems. Houstoun's playing drew from them all their delicacy and drama, joy and sadness. The blazing virtuosity of the last of them raised the roof.
Next year's programme of six Mulled Wine Concerts will start in January. It's one of the best musical treats in Wellington's year.