Stephen Hough

Fantasia in C minor, K475
Fantasy in C, Op.17
Piano Sonata in B flat, K333
Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc)
Liszt arr. Busoni
Fantasia on two themes from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro

Stephen Hough (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A momentary hiatus to begin with in the form of a too high and couldn’t-be-lowered piano stool dealt with humorously and with charm by Stephen Hough. A replacement seating apparatus in place, Mozart’s C minor Fantasia could perhaps have enjoyed more flexibility and less-accented notes, but Hough was able to surprise in revealing the volatility that lurks within this work.

Schumann’s great Fantasy was launched into the welcoming-back applause; a magnificent performance delivered with power and passion, and tenderness and inwardness. Given without indulgence, there was a cohesive sweep about this account that revealed Schumann’s multifaceted depth of feeling as well as a defined structure. If the central ‘scherzo’ lacked some impetuosity, the outer movements were aflame with human outpouring, the finale intimate and profoundly compelling.

In many respects Mozart’s B flat Sonata was the recital’s highlight; it was delightfully crisp, shapely and full of incident; the Andante cantabile flowed – and Hough showed a keenness to reveal destabilising harmony during it – and the whole was completed with a finale of rude good health. Following was Hough’s own Mozart Transformations. Fresh from Salzburg this year, where he gave a Mozart/contemporary programme, Hough provided these specially written Transformations. He has taken a couple of juvenile Mozart pieces, and a song, and re-thought them à la Poulenc. The result is ‘late-night lounge-bar’, beguiling and laconic – more Poulenc than Mozart – and ending, consciously or not, with an English touch that reminds of Poulenc’s friend Lennox Berkeley.

A menage à trois followed: Mozart – Liszt – Busoni. Liszt’s transcriptions and paraphrases are numerous; one based on “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro” was never completed. Busoni to the rescue! He took out the “Don Giovanni” references and a ‘Figaro fantasy’ was born. It’s an amusing piece in places, the changes to two so-well-known ‘songs’, and the writing for the piano is as one would expect from two master pianists. Suffice to say that Hough gave an heroic and scintillating rendition.

Hough’s not one to hang out the applause – the music is more important – and two encores followed. Both were intriguing, because unidentified. The first had its Debussy ‘moments’. Cyril Scott? York Bowen? A seemingly familiar tune suggested a ‘standard arranged Hough’. None of these: Mompou’s Young Girls in the Garden. The second encore had me going through the Johann Strauss waltz repertoire; actually it was his dad (Johann I) and a march – Radetzky – and this particular discombobulating transformation might just have something to do with our pianist for the evening!

The broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Christmas Eve (being a Sunday it must be “Sunday Gala”) is a must-listen.

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