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Hyperion Records

CDA67043 - Stephen Hough's New Piano Album
CDA67043
Recording details: October 1998
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Mike Hatch & Mike Clements
Release date: October 1999
Total duration: 76 minutes 37 seconds

‘the pianist’s giddy romp through ‘The Carousel Waltz’ is a tour de force that brilliantly recaptures both the tender and tough … The unadorned Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky selections are played with heartfelt simplicity and a lean yet singing sonority … Delightful’ (Gramophone)

‘a world of musical enchantment where artifice and sentiment are distinct virtues … Hough’s deftly fingered ornamental tracery [Liszt] … tonal relish [Godowsky] … beautifully conjure this music’s perfumed fragrance, culminating in a charmingly idiomatic account of Godowsky’s Alt Wien reminiscence of the Vienna of his youth … contrasts virtuoso exuberance … with affectionate tendresse … exploits the kaleidoscopic range of the piano in his own highly imaginative arrangements … Encore!' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Few recording pianists can match Stephen Hough in the flair with which he tackles trivial party pieces like the 20 varied items here. He gives such encore material sparkle and point that charms the ear' (The Guardian)

'This is a terrific disc. A master pianist reminds us that the piano can delight, surprise and enchant' (Classic CD)

‘Hough’s own glittering Musical Jewellery Box and his arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel Waltz are lovely nostalgia fodder … In the hands of a pianist so refined and gentle this is an ideal fireside recital’ (Financial Times)

'Stephen Hough is probably the most Protean pianist of his generation. Not only is he equally adept in the intellectual challenges of the Schumann Fantasie and the delightfully brainless acrobatics of the Award-winning Scharwenka Fourth, but, beyond that, he can tease out the pleasures from the trifles featured here with an old-fashioned wit—and a refreshing lack of pretension—that few living performers can match. What's most striking, on first hearing, is the finesse of his fingers, in particular the kaleidoscopic range of his colour and touch. As you listen again, you're apt to be struck even more by Hough's emotional poise … Excellent … Like any first-class dessert-tray, this one is addictive.' (International Piano)

‘His performances throughout this disc display his acute understanding of Romantic performance practice (finely judged tempo fluctuations and tasteful rubato), his breath … taking digital dexterity, and adept control of piano tone, which ranges from intimate to heroic’ (CD Now)

‘fingers of pliable steel and mind of infinite affection … for he makes one mindful of legendary … virtuosos whose astonishing manual dexterity was matched by spontaneous flights of fancy, making most of today’s keyboard stars sound slightly ham-fisted and emotionally constipated … While one appreciates the impressive clarity of his every interpretive gesture, one also hears an intriguing amalgam of analytical mind and swooning heart’ (Ottowa Citizen, Canada)

'As a perfect continuation of Stephen Hough’s two splendid forerunners (Piano Album), … this New Piano Album displays great conviction and even greater charm, first because its judicious selection and arrangement takes the listener through a constantly changing sound world but also because of Stephen Hough’s brilliant playing. With this repertoire of unusual little piano pieces he firmly establishes himself as a worthy heir to the most famous pianists of the beginning of the twentieth century.' (Répertoire, France)

Stephen Hough's New Piano Album
No 3: F minor  [1'56]
No 11: Alt Wien  [2'16]
No 4: Autrefois  [3'33]

Back in the 80's Stephen Hough made two recordings for Virgin Classics which quickly became cult items among piano enthusiasts throughout the world. Using the title 'The Piano Album' those CD's featured a variety of the encore type pieces in which the pianist revels in the possibilities of his instrument, pieces designed to show off the performer as much as the music.

Stephen Hough's New Piano Album revisits this territory with a new selection of gems. This is the music of the great pianists of the past, and many, Rachmaninov and Paderewski to name but two, not only played such pieces but also wrote them. While times and styles have sadly changed, those who have heard Stephen Hough in concert know that at encore time this tradition is alive and well in his hands and that amongst the jewels of the past it is equally likely there will be a new Hough transcription such as the Carousel waltz included here.

This is a unique collection that will delight all fans of both Stephen Hough and romantic piano music.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Stephen Hough’s New Piano Album is a celebration of musical wit and affection – a tribute to sadly receding virtues and enchantments. In our increasingly brittle and cynical world it is hard to make terms such as ‘artificial’ or ‘sentimental’ sound other than pejorative, yet, like Ravel who once exclaimed “They accuse me of artificiality when it is the very thing I strive for”, Stephen Hough, a true alchemist of the keyboard, turns all preconceptions topsy-turvy. For him, the traditional encore offers a special opportunity to surprise and delight. Its acknowledgement in the programme or spoken preface (another English pianist’s flat-vowelled revelation, made some years ago, “I would like to play Schumann’s Arabesque”, struck precisely the wrong note) is contrary to its very essence. Artur Rubinstein’s teeming audiences may have waited breathlessly for ‘Nocturne by Chopin’ (always Op 15 in F sharp) or Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, their eager expectations invariably fulfilled, but Stephen Hough prefers the touch of enigma associated with Benno Moiseiwitsch whose unannounced performances of Palmgren’s West Finnish Dance, Stravinsky’s F sharp major Étude or Glazunov’s Valse de Concert prompted no less eager enquiry. For Hough, as for Moiseiwitsch, letting the cat out of the bag dissolves the divide between audience and performer, encourages a false familiarity or democracy, and dims the pianist’s personal charisma.

Many of Stephen Hough’s choices are dictated by nostalgia, a love of receding attitudes and emotions, a time when an audience’s feelings were open and unabashed, allowing a twinkle to light up the eye or a tear to fall without embarrassment. Do present-day fears or emotions run deep? Has the experience of two world wars and the Holocaust, involving the death of millions, shifted the spectrum of our feelings forever? After such events, silence was followed by cynicism, the world of, say, Walton’s Façade, or the sudden switch from seriousness to levity in a novel such as Iris Murdoch’s The Red and the Green. More specifically and musically, today’s piano students laugh not so much at Cortot’s wrong notes as at his emotional freedom and generosity, at what they see as ‘camp’ or ‘the theatricalisation of experience’. Robert White’s and Stephen Hough’s programme ‘Bird Songs at Eventide’ (Hyperion CDA66818), which includes such evergreens as Moon of my Delight and Roses of Picardy, provoked similar questions and bittersweet remembrances, and so here, in this most beguiling of recitals, Stephen Hough once more invites us to look back, think again and redefine our sense of musical and poetical parameters.

The first three items give us Schubert as seen through different pairs of eyes. For Liszt, Schubert’s waltzes needed a helping hand if they were to permeate an audience’s consciousness to the full. Reverent before Schubert (‘the most poetic of all composers’), he ornaments Schubert’s alternately robust and delicate dance measures, his altruism tinted by realism, his awareness that his ear-tickling, multicoloured virtuosity would draw as much attention to his own Merlin-like powers as to the composer’s original work. Like Andrew Marvell’s magical bird, which ‘whets and combs its silver wings and waves in its Plumes the various Light’, Liszt’s lilting and cascading embellishment adds an ingredient at once foreign and sympathetic to Schubert’s idiom. A generation later, Leopold Godowsky inlays Schubert’s innocence with ivory and gold, with a darkening and enriching chromaticism that has enraged artists (notably Sir Clifford Curzon) of a more puritan taste. Here, it must be admitted, Schubert takes second place, and whether you consider such hyphenation elevated or debased, richly perfumed or defiled, it is hard to resist such a lavish and bejewelled tribute. Alt Wien leaves Schubert for an idealisation of Godowsky’s Viennese childhood, for a city of dreams, and so we become aware of multi-levels of longing and memory.

Moritz Moskowski’s Étincelles is surely a pastiche of Scarlatti and, as Hough sends its reeling figuration at one point plunging rather than soaring, you can sense how such an elfin touch would have wreathed the composer’s face with the broadest of smiles. In supreme contrast, Paderewski’s Mélodie, a clear if sober relative to his Nocturne, offers plainness rather than exoticism, is elegant and simple rather than gilded or affected. Chaminade’s Pierrette is a feisty young lady, all flounces and ruffles, her gay insouciance contrasted by Autrefois, a charming pastiche evoking former times and, once again, Scarlatti’s alternating exuberance and introspection.

Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953) abandoned his ambition to become a concert pianist to compose highly successful operettas. Born in Hungary, he emigrated to America. A contemporary of Bartók and Kodály in Budapest, he was taken up by Richard Tauber, whose recording of Was weiss ein nie geküsster Rosenmund, with its daringly extreme rubato was the inspiration for this transcription. Here Hough makes one sound melt – rather than merely join or elide – with another, a transcending quality that too often divides both singers and string players from pianists. Stephen Hough’s own Musical Jewellery Box, prompted by previous examples of the genre (Liadov, de Séverac, Friedman etc.) achieves a double magic, its French nonchalance enhanced by the sparkle of jewellery, its innocence mixed with experience, a marvel of wide-eyed wonder and sophistication. Hough’s Étude de Concert is, again in his own words, ‘a pastiche of the Slavic piano étude. In ABA form its A sections, made up of three themes, are reduced to half tempo to form the B section. During the reprise of section A all three themes are combined briefly before a coda transforms the main theme into a whirlwind tarantella’.

Richard Rogers’ Hello young lovers continues Hough’s transcriptions of this composer, as does the Carousel Waltz, dedicated to Lyndon Scarffe, its impressionist opening sending wisps of melody floating across a deserted fairground or, midway, before the carousel is whirled into raucous and rapidly gyrating life. The transcription of the Londonderry Air was originally composed for James Galway and Robert White, so this is an arrangement of an arrangement, skimming all excess cream and allowing for a pure Irish melody to sail, in magically brittenesque style, across a syncopated accompaniment.

Finally to Russia. Rachmaninov’s Humoresque is played in the composer’s glittering revision, as is his insinuating ultra-slavic Mélodie. Tchaikovsky’s Dumka is among his most substantial piano works, concluding with an elegiac memory of its former glow and intensity, while Earl Wild’s transcription of the same composer’s Pas de quatre from Swan Lake is as delectable as it is brief. Stephen Hough confesses he began by altering bits of Eugene Pabst’s Sleeping Beauty Paraphrase, and in the end changed virtually everything. A transcription of true virtuoso vintage, this is very much Tchaikovsky/Pabst/Hough.

A lover of pianistic craft and wizardry, Stephen Hough complements his nostalgia, his love of the past, with a rare sense of artifice and cunning. Like the protagonist in W B Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium, he will surely wish that

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of Hammered gold or gold enamelling
To make a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To Lords and Ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Bryce Morrison © 1999

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