Review: Inspired by Bach

Monday, 28 September 2015
Michael Houstoun. Photo by John Hawkins

Concert review by John Button, Dominion Post

Aided by music on an iPad, Michael Houstoun gave the eighth concert in his New Zealand wide tour of this cleverly-constructed programme and, as you would expect, it is fully under his fingers.

By and large, one could take the quality of the playing as a given – technically immaculate, musically clear-headed – to the point where the listener could concentrate completely on the music.

The first half opened with Bach's Partita No.1 – the first of six in which the composer adopts the French dance suite model - which was then followed by two New Zealand works.  And, for me, this was the true heart of this recital. Ross Harris contributed a new work Fugue, a work that offered a somewhat reflective working of three fugues in Harris' highly individual post Bergian style. It made a real impression, and an ideal lead in for Lilburn's superb Chaconne. Composed in 1946 this masterly set of variations has a wonderful sense of space and ruggedness  that makes some enormous pianistic demands yet has a poetry made of Lilburn's highly distinctive voice.

The second half began unpretentiously with Rachmaninov's arrangement of three movements from Bach's Violin Partita in E, followed by the Prelude and Fugue in D minor from Shostakovich's wonderful 24 Preludes and Fugues Op.87 from 1952. I would love the chance to hear the full work in concert some time. Then back to Bach – after a fashion  - with Liszt's free transcription  of the Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, and then to finish things a small Bach encore.

A rewarding, well played, concert made significant by the quality of the two New Zealand works sitting comfortably among some of the greats of Western music.