> Stephen Hough's English Piano Album [PS]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Stephen Hough’s English Piano Album

Four Bagatelles


Two Poems in Homage to Delius
Two Poems in Homage to Fauré

Stephen HOUGH

Valses Enigmatiques Nos. 1 and 2

Edward ELGAR

In Smyrna.

Granville BANTOCK arr. HOUGH

Song to the Seals.


Reverie d’Amour; Serious Dance; The Way to Polden (an ambling tune)

The Dew Fairy; Heart’s Ease

Six Studies (Study-Variations) Op.56.
Stephen Hough (piano)
Rec 2001 DDD
HYPERION CDA 67267 [73’42"]


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Stephen Hough is one of our finest pianists. He has an extensive repertoire embracing much that is outside the well-trodden paths of many recitalists. Unlike so many performers these days – on whatever instrument – he also tries his hand at composing (and arranging) for his instrument.

This very attractive Hyperion release is representative of his skills and is of especial interest to lovers of British music. Few of the items thereon will be widely known, apart from Alan Rawsthorne’s Bagatelles, which express so much in such a brief compass, and the colourful and thoroughly characteristic In Smyrna which has been swept up in the Elgarian revival of the past 40 years. (It may be more popular now than in Elgar’s lifetime). The gossamer–like Bridge miniatures are post–1918 but are in his pre-Great War lighter vein which yielded so much for our delight.

York Bowen’s large output may work against his popularity as it does in the case of others among music’s big producers. I had previously heard none of these three pieces which form a rewardingly varied group: Reverie d’Amour’s lushness contrasting well with the wistful Serious Dance and the happy-sounding, if restrained, Way to Polden (Polden is thought to be in Somerset).

Stephen Reynolds, born in 1947, is a new name to me as a composer (he has achieved distinction as a pianist). These four Poems are lighter interludes in a more "serious" compositional output. Delius and Fauré are two of his favourite composers and the Poems are attempts to write in their respective styles. I could detect little that was Delian in the brief and charming Rustic Idyll but considerably more in the much longer Serenade and Dance of Spring. The Fauré Poems are most enjoyable, too, their fluency arguing that Fauré the song composer was their primary influence.

Mr Hough figures as a composer in the Valses Enigmatiques, enchantingly light in texture and apparently full of personal allusions’ which (like Elgar’s Enigma Variations) need not concern the average listener. I liked, too, his sensitive and affectionate arrangement of Bantocks Song to the Seals.

Most of this repertoire can reasonably be dubbed light piano music, of which British composers have written a huge amount and which I suspect has given enormous, if largely untold, pleasure down the years. The exception is Kenneth Leighton’s Studies, which are much more craggy and astringent than anything else here, but whose rhythmic imaginations, culminating in a very rapid and excitingly percussive finale, repay the closest listening. Their superb piano writing reminds us that Leighton was a fine pianist. Mr Hough clearly values them highly and this may well be the definitive performance.

Good recording; I am happy to recommend this disc strongly.

Philip Scowcroft


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