Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Late Masterpieces
Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op 60 (1846) [8:30]
Mazurka in F minor, Op 63 No 2 (1846-47) [1:42]
Mazurka in A minor, Op 67 No 4 (1846-47) [2:46]
Mazurka in C sharp minor, Op 63 No 3 (1846-47) [2:03]
Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 No 4 (1846-47) [1:40]
Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major, Op 61  [13:40]
Nocturne in B major, Op 62 No 1 (1846) [6:44]
Nocturne in E major, Op 62 No 2 (1846)  [5:47]
Piano Sonata No 3 in B minor, Op 58 (1844) [25:50]
Berceuse in D flat major, Op 57 (1843) [4:10]
Stephen Hough (piano)
rec. May 2009, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol
HYPERION CDA 67764 [73:08]
Stephen Hough’s Chopin is highly persuasive. It’s not heaven-storming, but nor is it cool. It manages to project this carefully chosen ‘late’ selection with thoughtful intelligence and with tonal allure. But, again, it’s not beauty for beauty’s sake - it’s art for art’s sake. There may be the occasional quibble over tempo decisions, or over a sense of under-projection, but these are localised decisions and in general one can listen knowing that Hough’s bearing is devoted wholly toward the music-making, that his is an agency of refined control.
I would not dissent if perhaps auditors found that some of the more rich early chordal passages in the Barcarolle could be played more passionately. But we find as the music progresses that Hough ensures that the variousness of mood and metre and texture are well accounted for, that his tone is rich, that he knows when to hold back and when to allow a sense of flow to course through the music, to allow it to swim freely, unmediated by regularity. This is not to imply excessive freedom. Equally when one turns to the two selected Nocturnes one finds elegance of phrasing, evenness of trills, and a truly poetic spirit. Again, one might quibble with the initial tempo of the E major, but it does quicken, and the results are still laudable.
There are similar qualities audible in the Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat major. Unexaggerated and controlled, clear sighted, acute in his use (or abjuring) of the pedal, he again demonstrates that his is a view unchained by either convention or tradition. It is personal but central Chopin playing. He brings gentle wit to bear to the A minor Mazurka; charming little pauses, a bright ethos, like a glass held up to sunlight.
In the more sustained challenges of the B minor sonata he proves redoubtable. His measured Maestoso, the glittering scherzo, the refulgent but not overblown lyricism of the Largo all point to a performer of self contained assurance and communicative spirit. If one senses that there is an element in this music-making of projecting cautiously, then I think I would disagree. Hough’s aesthetic here is not toward the impulsive but it is toward impulse; he doesn’t embrace the volatile but he is alive; he doesn’t cultivate expressive latitude but does employ pervasive rubati; he is not unduly rhapsodic but he is lyrical. It’s, on its own terms, cogent, and logical - without being predictable or mathematical.
This is a fine recording, well engineered, and made at St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol. Hough has written his own booklet notes, including a whimsical explanation for the cover artwork. His playing is artful and sympathetic, avoiding excess and celebrating instead measured lyricism.
Jonathan Woolf  
Artful and sympathetic, avoiding excess and celebrating measured lyricism.