Fantasiestücke, Op.12 – V: In der Nacht
Piano Sonata No.14 quasi una fantasia in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Moonlight)
Two Nocturnes, Op.27 – No.1 in C sharp minor; No.2 in D flat
Piano Sonata No.2, notturno luminoso
Stephen Hough (piano)
Recorded 9 & 10 May 2013 at the Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, Wales
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2014
CD No: HYPERION CDA67996
Duration: 77 minutes
Stephen Hough’s In the Night recital is bookended by Schumann, opening with the titular excerpt from the wonderful Opus 12 Fantasiestücke, the music restless, as in a tormented sleep; deeply romantic too, Hough expanding the more-lyrical aspects ideally to bring out fable and passionate feeling. To close is Carnaval, Schumann’s imperishable set of character-pieces. Hough gives a commanding performance – with wit, gravity, affection, debonair stylishness and spontaneity. A vivid sense of portrayal is at work, and when coupled with the pianist’s outstanding technique and penetrating musicianship the result proves to be both a treat and enlightening. Hough has the measure of Schumann’s delectable flights of fancy and tender feelings; add in an old-world flexibility and a generous spirit for an enticing cocktail of events.
Coming between Schumann at his greatest, Hough offers seductive readings of two Chopin Nocturnes, both of which pulse with quiet emotions and the dusky suggestiveness of delicate fragrances. Either side of these are two Sonatas. Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ is given a reading that nicely balances structure and (imagined) narrative – moonlight not being uppermost in the composer’s mind when he wrote the hypnotic first movement but which was an image that suggested itself to others. At the other end of the scale is the tempestuous finale, given with clarity and no little obsessiveness as Hough drives the music home.
The other Sonata (No.2) is by Hough himself, notturno luminoso, from 2012, for which the composer has written an introductory note, referring to the moon reflecting on a lake and stars in the sky as well as the use of sharps for brightness and flats for darkness. Cast in a single movement lasting close on 20 minutes, the bell-like timbres suggest Messiaen and are craggily celebratory. Britten seems in the background, too. The score has violent contrasts – rapid scurrying (with interruptions) and developing an irresistible, clangourous and ecstatic energy before a soft ending. Hough’s description of “the brightness of a brash city in the hours of darkness” is a helpful marker and, of course, one needn’t worry about the quality of the performance, which is mesmerising and also captured in lucid and dynamic sound.