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The Stephen Hough Piano Collection
Frederick CHOPIN (1810-1849) Ballade No.3 in Ab major Op.47 (1841) [7:00]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987) La fuente y la campana Paisajes No.1 (1942) [3:22]
Ben Weber (1916-1979) Fantasia (Variations) (1946) [8:30]
Deng Yu-Hsien (1906-1944) arr. Stephen Hough (b.1961) Pining for the Spring Breeze [2:38]
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor Op. 5 Scherzo (1853) [4:31]
York Bowen (1884-1961) Berceuse Op.83 (c.1943) [3:39]
Franz Schubert (1797-1837) Piano Sonata in C major, Finale D613 (1818) [4:48]
Johann Hummel (1778-1837) Piano Sonata in F# minor Op.81, vivace (1819) [7:40]
Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) arr. Earl Wild (b. 1915) Pas de Quatre [1:33]
Stephen Reynolds (b.1947) Chanson d’automne (c.1980) [2:06]
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Polonaise No.2 in E major (1851) [8:51]
Stephen Hough (b.1961) Suite Osmanthus [12:41]
César Franck (1822-1890) transcribed by Stephen Hough (b.1961) Troisième Choral M40 (1880) [11:25]
Stephen Hough, piano
[Various recording dates from previous albums not quoted in this release. Composition dates not given on this recording. I have provided them where known.]

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This CD is unashamedly a sampler. In fact Stephen Hough says as much in the introduction to the minimalist programme notes. It is not designed for the Hough aficionado, but for the neophyte who is approaching the maestro for the first time. Hough claims that there is a piece from every published solo album (on Hyperion) plus two works that have never been issued or heard anywhere else.

For those of us who have followed his career (and purchased his CDs) there is little reason to buy this disc – unless we have the train-spotting mentality of wishing to collect everything in his discography. I am not sure that I would fork out even for a budget CD for the 2 minutes 38 seconds of Pining for the Spring Breeze – attractive as it is. There is something of the Henry Cowell about this work. Apparently it is a popular song in Taiwan – I wonder if ‘popular’ is in the sense of the Beatles or By yon Bonny Banks and Braes. Who knows?

The other ‘not previously issued’ work is the pianist’s own Suite Osmanthus. Now I am not sure I can quite work out what is going on here. The work, apparently, is based on the ‘musical’ letters of the name of their dedicatee – Dennis Chang. The construction of this work is not explained. Although it sounds rather good - especially the middle section – but I am not sure whether it is a masterpiece. I am not convinced that I particularly enjoy this ‘chinoiserie.’ Better programme notes would have helped enormously.

But what else in on this ‘retrospective’ CD?

A brief perusal of the Hyperion discography reveals Stephen Hough having produced some eighteen discs. Seven of these are for piano and orchestra, cello or tenor solo. These have not been sampled. The repertoire is wide-ranging and shows the pianist’s superb ability at playing a variety of styles – from classical rondos to 12-tone works via Liszt and César Franck.

Each work in the programme notes is introduced by the pianist with a witty, pertinent or pithy comment.

The opening work, Chopin’s Ballade No.3 in Ab major is a result of Hough being accused of only playing obscure music. This Ballade is rightly one of Chopin’s most popular pieces and is played to perfection on this recording.

Hough tells us that he knew the works of Federico Mompou before he had come to terms with Bach and Brahms. In fact Mompou's piano music was on the very first LP that Hough owned. The Paisajes (Landscapes) are beautiful in a way that transcends the Spanish background to these pieces. The present La fuente y la campana (The Fountain and the Bell) is described by Hough as possessing an ‘ecstatic calm and intimacy.’

The work by Ben Weber (Fantasia (Variations)) is derived from 12 tone techniques. It is obviously quite an introverted work – although there are a number of passionate outbursts. Like many 12 note composers Weber does not eschew tonality – but creates an interesting and finally successful synthesis.

Hough could not have picked a better movement from Johannes Brahms Piano Sonata for this disc. The 3rd Sonata is a large five movement work that has been described as the greatest love music since Tristan. Whether this is a fair judgment or not I will leaved the listener to decide. However the ‘scherzo’ has been described as ‘signifying a sense of the muscular swing and release of pent-up energy.’ It is certainly an impressive extract under Hough’s fingers.

My favourite piece on this CD is the seductive and extremely beautiful, if somewhat restrained Berceuse by York Bowen. Bowen is one of those very few composers whose every work appeals to me. I have never heard a piece of his that I did not fall in love with immediately. And as an aside, do not forget to check out the Bowen/Forsyth coupling of the Viola Concertos on Hyperion!)

The ‘finale’ from the Piano Sonata in C major D613 by Franz Schubert is unfinished – but let’s hear what Hough writes:-

‘This is an unfinished movement of an unfinished sonata by this composer with an unfinished creative life. It is extremely awkward to play and I wonder if Schubert gave up mid stream because his fingers, rather than his musical ideas, were getting tied up in knots!’

As one may already have guessed Hough handles this movement with skill and aplomb. It is rather a lovely piece actually.

Johann Hummel is one of those composers who are actually much more competent than the press he receives would suggest. Although perhaps not quite matching Beethoven and Schubert for genius, he surely deserves a greater role in the pantheon of composers. This work, the ‘vivace’ from the Piano Sonata in F# minor Op.81 is, to quote Hough, ‘finger-busting’ and full of the ‘confidence of a monkey flying through the trees.’ As a personal note I have always found I actually enjoy Hummel’s Sonatas more than Ludwig Van B’s!

Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Quatre as transcribed by Earl Wild is one of those short pieces that ought to be in the ‘encore’ list of any pianist. Nothing really special but a nice witty way of rounding out a recital. The piece originally comes from Sleeping Beauty.

What can one say about Stephen Reynolds’ Chanson d’automne? Well I will say just this: it is surely one of the loveliest pieces of piano music in the repertoire. I would just have to have it on my desert island. The text does not say when it was composed, but apparently it was circa 1980. Ok, call it retro if you will, but to me it is the perfect evocation of an autumn evening – and that is all that matters.

The Liszt Second Polonaise is one of works that make aspiring pianist (or long-term amateurs) think about giving up. ‘Fireworks’ is the most obvious word to describe this lively piece. Of course the ‘Polonaise’ part of it bears little resemblance to those similarly named works of Chopin that I recall trying to pick my way through (the easier ones!) but Liszt preserves the name and the rhythm. It is definitely a work that is in your face – a show-stopper.

The last piece is well known to students of the organ loft. César Franck is one of the great masters for that instrument. But many people forget that he composed much for the piano. In fact his piano concerto is probably about the least known of the great romantic works. This transcription of the Third Chorale is a masterpiece. I was not sure how I would feel about hearing this work in a guise that was complete new to me. As it happens this work sits extremely well for the piano although I know that Stephen Hough did struggle to get the balance right. This is and always has been a deeply felt and moving work – this transcription sheds new light on what is rightly a masterpiece.

This is a fine introduction to the piano playing of one of the great talents of the present age. He is a fine complement to Hyperion’s catalogue. My only complaint is that the CD liner notes do not give much help on the individual pieces. Perhaps they assume that if the listener is really interested they will buy the source CD! And one other thing: I know that Hough was born in 1961, but I could find no reference in this CD or on the net to where he was born!

John France

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