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alternatively Crotchet

Stephen Hough (piano)
A Mozart Album

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasy for Piano in C minor, K475 [11:32]
Sonata for Piano no.13 in B flat major, K333 [20:00]
Fantasia for Piano in C minor, K396 (385f) [9:24]
Johann Baptist CRAMER (1771-1858)
Études, Op. 103: no.6, Hommage ŕ Mozart [2:05]
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)
Menuetto in D major (from Mozart's Divertimento for 2 Horns and Strings no.17 in D major, K 334) [5:11]
Stephen HOUGH (b.1961)
Three Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc) [5:58]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)/Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Fantasia on two themes from Mozart's 'Marriage of Figaro,' S 697 [15:25]
Stephen Hough (piano)
rec. St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 5-7 November 2006. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

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 ŕ 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. 

The Liszt/Busoni 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 class.

Robert Costin


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