The Classics: December 11

Trios. Michael Houstoun (piano). Rattle CD

Houstoun’s second album of the year, (following Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in July that exhibited fabulous virtuosity in a masterpiece) the latest release features personal favourites from the repertroire of French piano music. As such, it is an album of exquisitely beautiful brevities by Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Gabriel Faure, and Francis Poulenc, all meticulously played.

Kenneth Young explains in his excellent notes in the album’s booklet that the title,  Trois (French for three), came about after Houstoun had recorded the three movements of Ravel’s Sonatine. He considered other groups of three compositions written by French composers. So he plays Satie’s Gymnopodie No.1, No.2 and No.3, interspersed with Debussy’s Images Oubliees,  Faure’s Nocturne Op.33, and Poulenc’s Trois Novelettes — all three-part works.

The recital ends with more short works by Faure, Impromptu No.2 Barcarolle No.1, and Valse-Caprice No.1, illustrating three different forms of music that the composer made prolific use of in his career.

The notes by Young (who produced the CD) also reveal his admiration for Houstoun’s artistry: "What I most admire  ... is his integrity towards the music, and, as a result , the composer. The clarity of line he brings to each of the pieces on Trois ironically stems from his approach to Beethoven. He has an understanding of internal counterpoint, a subtle sense of harmonic blend, no overweight rubato or excessive sustaining pedal, and he adheres to indicated tempi and their gradations. Michael allows the composer and his music to speak for themselves, rather than enhancing the work for his or our benefit."

Hear hear!

Verdict: Another immaculate piano recital.

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