Whether, in titular terms, this is the Album that Stephen Hough has always wanted to make or it’s Hyperion’s way of telling us it is his finest recording to date (plenty of self-made competition though, such as a recent Debussy disc) is a fancy on my part, for the pianist leads us invitingly through the reasoning behind the Dream concept and the pieces themselves with an erudite collection of words to grace the booklet.
That’s my way in. Hough’s (appropriately dreamily first off and with a hint of Rachmaninov at his most insouciant) is the Radetzky Waltz: the notes are Johann Strauss the First’s, the time-signature is Hough’s, “the military parade becomes a ballroom”. There are twenty-seven novelties here, so it doesn’t take an abacus to work out the shortness of each; even shorter (sometimes) when Liszt’s ‘Harmonies du Soir’ (from the Transcendental Studies) weighs in at an epic nine minutes and is full of nocturnal poetry.
There are numerous Hough transcriptions and originals here, including (in the first camp) versions of ‘Das alte Lied’ and ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ (the latter indelibly associated with Kathleen Ferrier), some balletic Minkus, ‘Moscow Nights’ (Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen did a re-titled version of this, striking the Midnight hour) – Hough opening this with the first bars of a rather-well-known Piano Concerto (C-minor, Opus 18, the composer already mentioned) – and, in the second, Niccolo’s Waltz (you don’t need me to mention the Paganini piece that is alluded to, Hough being capricious) and a Romp and Reverie that are both named after Osmanthus, respectively scintillating and seductive.
Other composers’ originals include In the Steppes by Julius Isserlis (grandfather to cellist Steven), a ruminative number; equally transporting is Eric Coates’s By the Sleepy Lagoon (a desert-island choice); there is also some spruce Sibelius and teasing Chaminade (walking in the air), Elgar’s Salut d’amour, and a Humoresque by Dvořák, the one we all know. Hough winds down with a Lullaby of his own, softly bluesy (and minus the words and voice it once had), and finally Mompou’s brand of impressionism, here girls in a garden.
If I were choosing just one track, tricky, it would be Ernö Dohnányi’s C-major Rhapsody (from Opus 11), an impetuous gem played with élan and, in the gloriously ‘big’ romantic melody that emerges, a generous and communicative heart. Fab! Excellent sound, too. Another couple of releases like this and Hough will have his own version of Your Hundred Best Tunes.