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Hyperion Records

CDA67598 - Mozart: Stephen Hough's Mozart Album
Garden of Eden (oil on linen) by Anthony Mastromatteo (b?)
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist / Private Collection

Recording details: November 2006
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: March 2008
Total duration: 69 minutes 30 seconds


'There are all too few pianists with the equivalent of Hough's three Michelin stars … opening with two of Mozart's solo masterpieces, the ear is welcomed into an intimate, pellucid sound world with a sophistcated grading of dynamics … [Liszt-Busoni Fantasy on Non piu andrai] provides a hair-raising bravura display that deserves to be heard more often. At least, when played like this' (Gramophone)

'A bold and dramatic account of Mozart's K475 C minor Fantasia opens this memorable and imaginatively devised recital. While emphasising the prophetically romantic nature of the music, Stephen Hough takes great care not to overplay its more forceful passages … the final party piece, the Liszt/Busoni Fantasia on themes from The Marriage of Figaro, is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser given an exhilharating performance guaranteed to bring the house down' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A scintillating exploration of Mozartian style in tribute works by other composers. Easily the most attractive is by Stephen Hough himself, who takes three small pieces and reinvents them in the style of Poulenc. The result is a seductive, spicy and totally original addition to the genre, and a nice counterweight to the Liszt-Busoni Figaro fantasia, which the prodigiously talented Hough plays with his trademark intensity' (The Observer)

'We look forward to Hough's recordings. They are never disappointing, and this one is a classic. With excellent engineering and Harriet Smith's very informative notes, only those who do not value great pianism can afford to miss it' (American Record Guide)

'Hyperion's imaginative new collection shows this protean artist to be equally at home in the Classical repertoire. Not surprisingly, he offers romantic and highly pianistic Mozart … the result is a trio of performances of splendid variety … the recital ends rousingly with Liszt's Figaro Fantasia. Compared to the other post-Mozartian rarities, of course, this is standard fare—but it sounds freshly minted in this improvisatory reading … notable for his revelatory inner-line clarity even in the most congested textures and for his ability to reveal the underlying gestures in passages, that, even in Gilels' hands, emerge as a mere blur of notes. Excellent Hyperion sound and useful notes by Harriet Smith only add to the virtues of this first-rate release' (International Record Review)

'In a typically well-made progamme, the compelling British pianist springboards of Mozart into a series of tributes. The virtuoisic challenges are handled with liquid clarity and intelligent expression. Mesmerising in the Mozart, the transition to a more modern take comes surprisingly fluently' (The Times)

'Here's another winning, imaginatively conceived disc from Britain's finest pianist … it is unexpected and delightful programme-building. Prized for his pianism, Hough is also a superb Mozartian. He lends these Fantasias an almost Beethovenian weight and depth of expression … Hough's playing is dazzling throughout' (The Sunday Times)

'A new record from Stephen Hough is always something to look foward to, and A Mozart Album is no exception … altogether an outsanding disc released by Hyperion' (Liverpool Daily Post)

'Hough's Mozart playing is so fresh, so sensitive to the harmonic twists and the way the prase can simultaneously suggest different feelings … this 2006 Keener and Eadon production from St George's, Bristol, is impeccably presented, with a congenial note by Harriet Smith' (International Piano)

'In this deft tribute to Mozart's genius, splendid pianist Stephen Hough leads with a pair of the composer's own works before segueing into transcriptions, homages and his own Poulenc-inflected 'transformations'. Hough is incapable of an unengaging performance, as he demonstrates right off with an account of the Fantasia in C minor, K475 that pulls back from stormy drama for something more tactfully measured and delicate. An unfinished Liszt fantasia on 'The Marriage of Figaro' music, amended by Busoni, gets a wittily theatrical treatment' (San Francisco Chronicle)

'Stephen Hough generally does not disappoint in terms of programming … [his]Mozart is exemplary, with the Fantasias approached with a free sense of tempo and a careful attention to the dynamic contrasts and articulations in the score … the pendant piece is the Liszt-Busoni fantasia on themes from Marriage of Figaro, in which Hough displays his considerable technical wizardry and whimsical attention to details' (

'[Hough] is certainly one of today's most thoughtful and thought-provoking pianists, as his latest thematic Hyperion set underscores … playing with a mix of depth and detail that only the best pianists achieve … he connects kindred spirits in a witty, lovely way' (The Star-Ledger, USA)

Stephen Hough's Mozart Album
Allegro  [7'20]
Menuetto  [5'11]
Minuet, K1  [2'34]

We are delighted to present an eagerly awaited recital disc from Stephen Hough. This fascinating programme begins with some of Mozart’s most audacious and forward-looking piano works. Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor K475 is a wonderfully unfettered and uninhibited work, suffused with high drama and a sense of constantly shifting moods. The Piano Sonata in B flat major K333 is a similarly ground-breaking piece, developing in scale and drama from its lyrical, gentle opening.

The second part of the disc features Mozart as seen by others, from the homage of a near-contemporary right up to the modern day, with Hough’s own irresistibly quirky Mozart imaginings, and from elegant miniatures to Liszt/Busoni’s virtuosic Figaro Fantasy. This disc is full of surprises, and demonstrates the full range of Hough’s extraordinary artistry.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
’Mozart is made neither of porcelain, nor of marble nor of sugar’, opined Alfred Brendel some twenty years ago. It is a sentiment worth recalling even today where his solo keyboard music is concerned. While the achievement of his piano concertos—a medium he elevated from mere grace and charm to a new level of profundity and virtuosity—has long been recognized, there is still a tendency in some quarters to regard the solo piano pieces as altogether slighter creations. And while the fantasias are admired as documents of his awesome improvisatory skills, their mould-breaking experimentalism, as wild as anything to be found in Beethoven, is rather less lauded.

The Fantasia in C minor, K475 triumphantly demonstrates the point. What an extraordinarily original and daring way to begin a piece, with a ringing spare, bare octave, followed by a motif that creeps rather than sings, jostled by one diminished chord after another. Mozart’s audience must have been struck dumb. The work dates from May 1785 and is frequently performed in tandem with the C minor Sonata, K457, in part because they were published together and both dedicated to Therese von Trattner. But both are so potent in their own right, so drenched in despair—for Mozart C minor was a key of inkiest blackness—that such an approach can only lessen their individual impact. The Mozart scholar Alfred Einstein greatly admired the Fantasia, commenting on Mozart’s ‘ability to indulge in the greatest freedom and boldness of imagination, the most extreme contrast of ideas, the most uninhibited variety of lyric and virtuoso elements while yet preserving structural logic’. That freedom is exhibited in many ways—chromaticism abounds, and again and again Mozart ratchets up the tension by increasing dissonance rather than resolving it. Effects such as tremolos prefigure Liszt, and intensify the feeling that we’ve swapped the salon for the high drama of the opera house, with passages that emulate recitative, arioso and aria.

The entire work is pervaded by a sense of restlessness full of constantly shifting moods, daring modulations and the exploitation of the complete range of the contemporary piano, with the hands often in widely contrasting registers, a particularly strong colouristic effect on a period instrument. And yet, as Einstein points out, it is structurally coherent, falling into several clear sections, with the second Adagio recalling the first.

While this sense of clearly mapped-out sections—equally evident in the other C minor work here—may owe something to the fantasias of CPE Bach, that is where the similarity ends. In scope and depth of mood Mozart looks far into the future, to Liszt, perhaps even on to Busoni. It is hardly surprising that there were at least three orchestral versions made of K475 early in the nineteenth century, so potent are its colouristic effects.

The Fantasia in C minor, K396/K385f dates from slightly earlier: Mozart left it unfinished in 1782 and it was completed by Maximilian Stadler (1748–1833). Like the later piece, it immediately announces its darkness of mood, this time with a turbulent ascending arpeggio. Again, it thrives on seering dissonances, diminished chords, a lack of harmonic resolution, copious chromaticisms and unexpected harmonic twists. But it has a greater pathos, with figures of wispy delicacy set high above strong bass-line foundations, and it lacks the seething quality of K475. Even so, when the opening arpeggio reappears in the major, it offers only a brief reprieve, as Mozart soon veers back to more ambiguous harmonic territory, landing once again in the minor with a left-hand accompaniment in the middle of the keyboard while the right hand darts from high to low, as if duetting with itself. Unlike K475, which ends in a mood of defiance, this Fantasia, following a reprise of its opening material, evaporates gently away to nothing.

Maximilian Stadler was himself an accomplished composer, but his posthumous reputation rests principally on his role as music adviser to Mozart’s widow. He was the first to order and catalogue the composer’s manuscripts, completing several of them besides K396. As well as having a sympathetic ear and a light editorial touch, he seems to have been a fascinating figure in his own right, anticipating John Cage in his invention of a kind of eighteenth-century music of chance, determined by the throw of a dice, and making arrangements of chants of the Mevlevi whirling dervishes.

Mozart wrote his Piano Sonata in B flat major, K333 in 1783 in Linz, where he and Constanze were staying on their way from Salzburg to Vienna. Superficially it might seem less groundbreaking than the fantasias, with its sunnier key, lighter textures and a plethora of irresistible melodies. But all is not as it might at first appear. The alluring opening, with its gently yearning appoggiaturas, gives way to a more dramatic second theme which creates tension through the interval of a seventh. This idea of a lyrical theme followed by a more extrovert one turns conventional sonata form on its head.

This is a work that seems to increase in scope as it unfolds, and once again memories of the opera house are never far below the surface, with an agitated minor-mode development section, where syncopated right-hand writing is set against restless semiquavers in the left hand, while the composer exploits the contrast of registers to the full. The recapitulation relaxes into the graceful opening theme, and the movement ends in a mood of benign serenity. The Andante cantabile unfolds at an unhurried pace, balancing tenderness with a certain solemnity. By contrast, the high-kicking finale takes off in a quite different direction. It is a concerto allegro in all but name, with clearly defined passages of solo and tutti writing, accents, dramatic silences and terse phrasing all adding spice. Even brief excursions into the minor can’t displace its ebullience for long, and Mozart adds a full-blown cadenza for good measure, in which major and minor battle it out beneath a soaring, trilling operatic line. Light triumphs over darkness as the opening theme is recalled, heralding a simple but emphatic ending.

The second part of this programme features Mozart as seen by others. We travel in time from the homage of a near-contemporary right up to the modern day, with Stephen Hough’s irresistibly quirky Mozart re-imaginings.

The delightful tribute by the long-lived Johann Baptist Cramer (1771–1858) introduces a moment of calm reflection. Though now largely forgotten by non-pianists, he was once a figure of great renown. Beethoven considered him the finest pianist of his time, while Moscheles praised his legato, adding ‘it almost transforms a Mozartian Andante into a vocal piece’. Certainly Cramer regarded himself as an upholder of what were then considered Mozartian ideals, namely grace, elegance and clarity. These are perfectly exhibited in the sixth of his Études Op 103, Hommage à Mozart, a lilting study in E flat major with a pervasive dotted rhythm which accelerates to a skittish climax before subsiding to an elegantly sighing close.

Grace, elegance and clarity are equally discernible in the Minuet by Ignaz Friedman (1882–1948), based on an unassuming divertimento for string quartet and two horns. If this is Mozart made of sugar, then it’s a creation of the finest spun sugar, taking pride of place in a patisserie window, for Friedman views the simple piece through late-Romantic eyes, replete with double-trills, a startlingly Grainger-esque opening harmonization and quasi-pizzicato rolled chords in the left hand. This contrasts with a trio section where bubbling right-hand figuration is then joined by the minuet’s opening theme, now a counter-melody in the left hand, before a reprise of the minuet proper.

From Mozart as sugar to something altogether more insouciant from Stephen Hough’s own pen. He writes of his Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc):

I wrote these three transcriptions as a result of being invited by the 2006 Salzburg Festival to give a recital with a Mozart/contemporary theme. Not being able to find anything suitable with which to add a little modern twist, I thought I would compose something myself. Poulenc and Mozart seem to have little in common at first sight, but perhaps their similar sense of humour, with its naughty, child-like quality, as well as a love for melody and the human voice, gives them a certain kinship.
The Minuet and Klavierstück (Nos 1 and 2) are very early piano pieces of the utmost simplicity—no chords, merely two independent lines, one in each small-spanned hand. I have kept the childlike melodies exactly as in the original, but allowed the harmonies to wander down the most adult paths. The Minuet’s first four bars are original Mozart, but after that we slink into other ‘bars’ where Parisian aromas of Gauloises and Guerlain curl seductively around the melody. The Klavierstück recalls Poulenc in one of his Stravinskian moods—piquant, spiky and ironic—until it dissolves into the wound-down innocence of a music box. The late song Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge (No 3) is a precious shaving from the workbench of the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B flat major, K595. As in the Minuet, I have taken the original simple melody and added harmonic spice—sometimes seductive, sometimes strident.

Franz Liszt’s Fantasia dates from late 1842. He seems to have played it just once—in Berlin on 11 January 1843. The piece was left incomplete, lacking an ending, and the manuscript appears to be a work-in-progress, with question marks over certain passages, and no tempo indications or dynamics. Uniquely among Liszt’s opera paraphrases it takes the themes of not one but two operas—The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni—though at no point are they combined, as one might expect. Busoni’s version—renamed Fantasia on two themes from Mozart’s ‘Le nozze di Figaro’—dates from 1912 and is far tauter than Liszt’s original, omitting the Giovanni music altogether and bridging the resulting gap with a ten-bar passage, a simple enough process given that the transition to and from this section is in C major. Busoni also provided sixteen bars to conclude the Fantasia. His touch is subtle, restoring to circulation a forgotten Liszt piece without overlaying his own musical personality too emphatically. Mozart was, for him, a god-like figure, far removed from the earlier nineteenth-century view, and Busoni was among the first to appreciate the true depths of his music.

The Fantasia is based on two arias: ‘Non più andrai’, sung by Figaro to Cherubino as he despatches him off to join a regiment, adding that womenkind will be able to breathe freely once more; and ‘Voi che sapete’, in which Cherubino serenades the Countess and Susanna. The work begins almost nonchalantly, with a snippet of ‘Non più andrai’ which is gradually transformed by Liszt in a substantial introduction full of melodramatic ardour, tremolos and eye-watering virtuosity. ‘Voi che sapete’ then appears complete, in a more lyrical section characterized by a delicacy which gradually warms as the texture increases in complexity and brilliance. The virtuosity, however, is never allowed to obscure the crystalline beauty of Mozart’s aria. Colours darken, tremolos and double octaves build up the tension in a transition passage culminating in a rising scale of double sixths and thirds which heralds the triumphant reappearance of ‘Non più andrai’, marked deciso and later marcatissimo, emphasizing the martial nature of Cherubino’s fate. If Liszt was already unsparing in his demands on the pianist, Busoni adds to these with such instructions as con eleganza in textures thick with notes. Liszt continues to tease, with Figaro’s theme veering off in unexpected harmonic directions until he finally deconstructs it, leaving little more than a rhythmic torso, against motoric left-hand figuration. Busoni attempts no clever tricks in his ending, stylistically remaining utterly in keeping with Liszt.

Harriet Smith © 2008

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