A new recording by Stephen Hough is always a cause for celebration.
One of the most adventurous and challenging of musicians, his
interpretations are deeply considered and meticulously realised.
The first part of the generous programme focuses on three original
works by Mozart, and the second features the master as seen by
others. As it says in the notes, ‘We travel in time from the homage
of a near-contemporary [Johann Baptist Cramer] right up to the
modern day, with Stephen Hough’s irresistibly quirky Mozart re-imaginings.’
Such a carefully constructed and executed programme demands continuous
listening over a period of time if one is to gain a full appreciation.
The programme begins with
the astonishing Fantasia in C minor K475, with its widely fluctuating
moods and daring modulations. In a fine performance one can
almost imagine the composer at the keyboard letting his inspiration
run free. Hough’s approach is relatively sober and direct; he
has pondered deeply about this music and knows what he wants
to achieve. I found his approach slightly too calculated in
places and lacking the last degree of spontaneity. However,
there is no denying that this is pianism of the highest quality,
with impeccable finger-work and carefully balanced textures.
Next is the Piano Sonata
in B flat K333, another poised and carefully considered performance.
Hough clearly knows his Mozart operas well, with the melodic
line beautifully sung in the Andante cantabile. The Allegretto
grazioso is given the requisite energy and momentum but
for me it lacks the last degree of humour and sparkle. The Fantasia
K396 is another hyper-sensitive performance, with Hough relishing
the many dissonances and chromatic harmonies.
The delightful Hommage à Mozart by Cramer
presents an immediate contrast in the programme. This is a beguiling
performance with Hough in his element. The Friedman Menuetto
also displays some wonderfully delicate finger-work coupled
with a spontaneous use of rubato. Hough’s own delightful
Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc) take
us into the twentieth century. These are charming miniatures,
performed with grace and humour.
Fantasia on ’The Marriage of Figaro’ is another imposing
event. Stephen Hough’s credentials as a Liszt performer are
impressive so I approached this performance with high expectations.
Again, he is technically immaculate and highly musical. This
is relatively low voltage Liszt focusing more on the lyrical
side, and such a tasteful performance is arguably as valid as
a more overtly virtuosic one. However, there is no denying that
in the first stage of his career Liszt was out to titillate
the masses with his keyboard wizardry as much as anything.
This is a stimulating
and rewarding recording which has given me much pleasure, despite
some slight reservations. The engineering and production is first