Edvard GRIEG (1843–1907) Lyric Pieces
Stephen Hough (piano)
rec. St. George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, 2014. DDD
Reviewed as 24/96 download from
Hyperion Records HYPERION CDA68070 [73:07]
(also available on CD and as mp3 and 16-bit lossless downloads, all
with pdf booklet).
1867 was the year that saw the appearance of the first volume of Grieg’s
Lyric Pieces and Stephen Hough’s judiciously chosen programme
begins appropriately enough with the first piece in this Opus 12 set,
Arietta. Hough’s selection is a mix of reflective, melancholic,
nostalgic, lively, cheerful and humorous pieces and the whole selection
is framed by the Arietta at the beginning and the concluding
Remembrances, the last of the Lyric Pieces. The former
is a simple, beautiful song-like piece and the latter, written forty
years later and using the same material, is transformed into a nostalgic
For a long time my favourite recorded performance of selections from
the Lyric Pieces has been by Emil Gilels on DG and in spite of
this excellent new recording from Stephen Hough, I shall always remain
attached to this great Russian artist’s recording. I felt that Gilels
has the edge over Hough in the Arietta. I was surprised and a
little unsettled by the fast speed adopted by Hough here,and
I like Gilels’ staccato left hand, as this adds a touch of humour
as well as melancholy to Remembrances. Einar Steen-Nøkleberg
misses the point in his performance of Remembrances on Naxos
because of his desperately slow speed.
The first piece from Opus 38 is Berceuse, touchingly and delicately
played with judicious and sensitive rubato by Stephen Hough.
The second section, marked to be played with a little more movement
and in a minor key, is contrastingly sprightly and rhythmic.
The first piece in Book 3 is Butterfly played by Stephen Hough
with immaculate clarity and deft finger-work. His performance is very
similar to that of Emil Gilels, but the sound of this newer release
is far superior to the 1974 DG recording, and Gilels’ use of the pedal
makes for a comparatively blurry sound. Solitary Traveller is
given an overall sweep by Hough, which is very effective, but Gilels
more effectively portrays the sadness and loneliness of the title with
his considerably slower tempo and sense of resignation.
Hough and the Hyperion engineers demonstrate the clarity of the latest
recording techniques, effectively reflecting, for example the chirpiness
of Little Bird. To Spring is the final piece in Book 3: one of
the most frequently played and finest items from The Lyric Pieces.
It is beautifully played here by Stephen Hough. With a wonderful sense
of style, he expertly builds towards the two climaxes before allowing
the music to die away to some finely balanced soft chords which conclude
The centre-piece of Stephen Hough’s recital is Notturno, as it
must always be in any Grieg recital. This is Grieg’s finest and most
beautiful work and it is played here with great care and sensitivity.
In this and Homesickness Stephen Hough easily brings us into
a romantic world of melancholy and nostalgia, but he is able to change
mood instantly in contrasting pieces such as Sylph and Homeward
Stephen Hough takes a measured and rather serious view of Wedding
Day at Troldhaugen, but his performance is very effective, full
of expressive detail and the climaxes are well-controlled. This is a
very fine account of one of Grieg’s most popular pieces.
Puck is very fast and requires a very nimble and lively touch,
and there is no doubting the immaculate dexterity and clarity of our
pianist’s finger-work here. Equally fast, but devoid of musicality,
is Einar Steen-Nøkleberg on Naxos, whereas Hough’s speedy playing is
imbued with colour and imagination.
There is no doubting Stephen Hough’s commitment to this music, which
he plays with a deep understanding of the style. He has real feeling
for Grieg’s little gems and he dispatches them with consummate ease.
As always, Hyperion have produced a first-class recording and the programme
notes by Jeremy Nicholas are well-presented and informative. I have
read a few adverse comments about Stephen Hough’s use of a Yamaha piano
and have always been averse to the sound of Yamaha pianos until now,
but this recording has changed my mind. As well as utmost clarity of
sound, the tone is rich and warm, second to none. A fabulous recording!
Another review ...
My own benchmark for a selection of these pieces is the recording by
Leif Ove Andsnes, now available at mid-price (Warner/EMI 5572962).
In fact, there isn’t too much overlap between that and the new Hyperion
recording, so the two could be regarded as complementary, especially
as, most surprisingly, the Andsnes selection omits the beautiful Til
Våren (Spring). Though it was originally included with his first
recording of the Piano Concerto, it was omitted from the shorter selection
on the budget-price reissue, with the Liszt Piano Concerto No.2 (Virgin
3913962 – review).
It is, however, available with the other Op.43 and Op.54 pieces on another
budget-price release of the concerto (Virgin Red Line 2322862).
Gilels also omits Til Våren and his selection also lacks Bryllupsdag
på Troldhaugen (Wedding Day at Troldhaugen) but his 56-minute selection
on DG Originals is otherwise as fine as Stephen Hough’s and since it
comes at mid-price I’d recommend it alongside the new recording. As
Gilels omits those two popular pieces and both are so well played by
Hough, the new recording is self-recommending even if you already have
the DG. If you download both, the outlay need be little more than the
price of one CD. The Hyperion can be obtained in mp3 or 16-bit lossless,
with pdf booklet, for £7.99, with 24-bit lossless only a little more
expensive at £12.00, from hyperion-records.co.uk.
Sample/stream the Gilels from Qobuz:
purchase there in lossless sound for £6.75 or in mp3 for £4.99 from
(No booklet with either).
One small matter: the title of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen is
given as Bryllupsday, a typo for Bryllupsdag. The download
booklet has been amended but it will be too late to amend the hard copies.
More to the point, Hough plays the piece with less abandon than you
might expect, especially if you’re used to the orchestral version, but
he does so very convincingly. After all it’s about a marriage and that
should ‘not … be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly’ or
whatever the equivalent of that is in the Norwegian Lutheran rite.
Andsnes doesn’t rush, either – in fact he takes significantly longer
than Hough, especially in the middle section – and though his touch
is slightly lighter than Hough’s, neither sounds ‘unadvised or wanton’.
If you really want to hear the piece with a zip without sounding too
hectic, try the piano-roll recording of Percy Grainger (2L blu-ray 2L60SABD,
with the Piano Concerto, etc.). I haven’t heard the APR reissue of
his 1921 78 recording (APR7501 – review),
but I see that he’s even faster there, possibly as a result of some
pruning because of the exigencies of 78 timings.
Just as I was about to round off this review a new download-only selection
of Lyric Pieces has appeared from Janina Fialkowska on Atma Classique
ACD22696 – sample/stream/download from Qobuz or download from eclassical.com
(mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless), both with pdf booklet. Rather than
delay this review longer than necessary, I’ll deal with that later,
perhaps in the next Download News.
I must apologise for having sat on Geoff Molyneux’s review until I had
evaluated yet another selection from Javier Perianes; twelve of the
Lyric Pieces coupled with his Harmonia Mundi recording of the
Piano Concerto (HMC902205). In the event, that’s a worthwhile recording
but neither the concerto nor the solo pieces challenge Hough, whose
very competitive recording of the concerto can be found on Hyperion
CDA67824 (with Liszt Piano Concertos – DL
News January 2012/2). Stephen Hough has also just recorded the
Grieg Cello Sonata with Stephen Isserlis (Hyperion CDA68079, with Mendelssohn
and Hough’s own sonata). Were it not for the very strong claims of
Gilels and Andsnes this new recording would go to the top of the pile;
as it is, it joins them there.