Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.83
Stephen Hough (piano)
Recorded 11-15 January 2013 at Salzburger Festspielhaus, Austria
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2013
CD No: HYPERION
CDA67961 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 38 minutes
Stephen Hough has previously recorded Brahms’s piano concertos, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Davis. That was more than twenty years ago and he has not denied himself or us the music since. His January 2013 view of these expansive works is documented here, with the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and Mark Wigglesworth. The current collaboration is a very productive one.
If the name of the Salzburg-based orchestra suggests fewer personnel than is the norm, then whatever size the ensemble is, the clarity and weight of the playing seems about ideal, and Wigglesworth’s conducting is deeply considered as well as being sympathetic to Hough. There is plenty of timpani thunder and horn blaze at the opening of the mighty D minor Piano Concerto, and woodwinds and strings are in parity; detail abounds. From Hough’s first entry the music is kept on the move without rush or glossing over possibilities. From tenderness to tempestuousness the pianist has the music’s measure. As ever with Hough, his playing is never sterile or hectoring – a myriad of touch and dynamic contrasts testifies to this – and enjoys a bygone approach to flexible phrasing and also invests a healthy disturbance when required. The piano, a Steinway, has a particularly attractive tone, warm and pellucid, never harsh yet with real depth of tone, and allows no end of expressive solos; the opening of the wonderful slow movement, a benediction, cuts one to the emotional quick. No lack of energy and cut and thrust, either, which the outer movements abound in. This is in short a virile and moving performance, sensitive and searching, that repays numerous return visits.
So too the majesty of its B flat successor with a ripe horn solo to open. Once again Hough’s love of and experience in Brahms’s music shines through in numerous personal touches that illuminate the music while also being unshakeable in terms of integrity. The space of the opening movement is well attested to, poise, drive and reflection made as one. The scherzo that is the second movement is suitably passionate, and the slow movement opens with the distinct advantage of the solo cellist being adjacent to the pianist (rather than espied by him straight ahead through the piano and its lid), a consequence of Wigglesworth using antiphonal violins and placing the cellos centre-left. It means that Marcus Pouget, in his beautifully rendered contribution, can act as a partner to the pianist, exactly what Brahms intended in this rapt and ardent outpouring. As for the finale, its relaxed playful quality is highlighted, with some elastic stretch and so beguilingly in the process.
All-round excellence here, then, naturally recorded and with a good musical balance, rich and rounded. Hyperion is offering the two CDs for the price of one.