Large audience enjoys clarity, finesse

Michael Houstoun has been a very popular and respected internationally acclaimed New Zealand pianist, teacher and recording artist for half a century.

In what was ''probably his last Dunedin concert'' the very large audience appreciated the clarity and finesse of his performance with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Tianyi Lu, on Saturday evening at the Dunedin Town Hall.

Lu is a 29-year-old Shanghai-born New Zealander, who is fast making her mark on the international conducting scene. She introduced herself, excitedly talked about the works to be played, then with effervescent personality and enthusiasm, directed the orchestra (whom she referred to as a ''jewel'') with huge emphasis on dynamic contrast and detail.

The concert began with Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, acknowledging the University of Otago's 150th.

Written in response to an honorary degree in 1879, the piece employed a variety of themes, including the student song Gaudeamus Igitur.

Mozart's Piano Concerto No 14 won great acclamation from Saturday's discerning audience. History records that after Mozart soloed in its first performance in 1784, he said ''the new concerto I played won extraordinary praise''.

Mozart would have loved Houstoun's delivery with its stylistic precision, refined tone and articulation, matched by the Mozartian-sized orchestra achieving particularly tight string shading. Prolonged applause was rewarded by Houstoun, with a keyboard sonata (F minor) by Domenico Scarlatti - lovingly sculpted with immaculate clarity.

The tone poem Aus Italien (1886) by Richard Strauss was a huge, ambitious three-quarter-hour work for the DSO. Lu invited the audience to ''come on a journey with Strauss'' then raised the baton and we were away!

Her entire being ''danced'' with never-flagging body language, continually rising on tip-toes, and no doubt ever-changing facial directions hidden from the audience.

The orchestra responded magnificently, delivering this very colourful Symphonic Fantasie with its sound paintings of Italian countryside, bird-calls, Roman ruins and the beach at Sorrento in a fabulous orchestral treat.

-By Elizabeth Bouman

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