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Hyperion Records

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When all is said & done (2006) by Anthony Mastromatteo (b?)
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist / Private Collection
Track(s) taken from CDA67686
Recording details: July 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Rachel Smith
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: March 2009
Total duration: 10 minutes 38 seconds

'Listening to this recital I felt as though I were a guest at a sumptuous banquet … it is the different wines accompanying each course that make this meal special, that is to say the discriminating premier cru tone, touch (what magically hushed pianissimos) and masterly pedalling to which the diners are treated, each element adjusted to each composer yet all unmistakably Stephen Hough—vintage Hough at that, for here is a pianist at the height of his powers … a great piano recording and front runner for instrumental disc of the year' (Gramophone)

'The glinting wit and thorough seriousness of pianist Stephen Hough's playing—attributes you desire from all virtuosi but do not always find—make this mixed repertoire disc a particular joy' (The Observer)

'Variations sérieuses is given a spontaneous and nimble account, fully relaying Mendelssohn's dazzling invention; and also his heart … [Beethoven Op 111] the second movement has rarely sounded more luminous … [Invitation to the Dance] Hough's performance is scintillating and affectionate, notably lucid in how the hands interact. The Chopin waltzes are pleasurable for Hough's unaffected and crisp (but never inflexible) playing … this thoughtfully conceived, superbly executed and produced release warrants a most enthusiastic recommendation' (International Record Review)

'Hough's clear-sighted path through both the Mendelssohn and Beethoven, every detail perfectly placed, belies the charm he brings to the bravura glitter of the Weber, the subtle ambiguities of Debussy's La Plus que Lente, and the more insidious allure of the Liszt. It's a beautifully accomplished sequence' (The Guardian)

'It's hard to think of another pianist who could encompass such high seriousness—his techincal brilliance is never an alibi for superficiality in Beethoven and Mendelssohn—and high jinks within the same programme … Hough wears his virtuosity so lightly that the fantastically difficult notes seem to pour off his fingers with effortless ease. His Weber and Liszt are played with staggering bravura, his Chopin is both brilliant and wistful, and his Waltzing Matilda makes you want to laugh out loud' (The Sunday Times)

Variations sérieuses in D minor, Op 54
composer
1841; composed for the piano album in aid of the Beethoven monument in Bonn

Other recordings available for download
Alfred Cortot (piano)
Valerie Tryon (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Before Beethoven grappled with them, the conventions of classical variation form were more of an inhibition than an inspiration. There are many delightful examples by Mozart and Haydn but, with the exception of the latter’s double Variations in F minor, they wrote nothing in that form to compare with the best of their sonata movements. For his first dozen sets of piano variations, none of them dignified by an opus number, even Beethoven accepted the limitations of the genre. In 1802, however, with the fifteen variations and fugue that form the ‘Eroica’ Variations Op 35 he deliberately set out to change all that. So began the process by which the theme-and-variations form rose to such an elevated status that—to take examples from this programme alone—it fulfilled the visionary requirements of the closing movement of Beethoven’s last sonata and inspired the greatest of Mendelssohn’s keyboard works.

Mendelssohn scarcely needed to describe his Variations in D minor as ‘serious’. Contributing to a piano album in aid of the Beethoven monument in Bonn, he no doubt wanted to dissociate his music from the frothy virtuoso stuff that could be expected from some of the other composer–pianists—Czerny, Döhler, Henselt, Kalkbrenner, Moscheles, Taubert and Thalberg—who, along with Chopin and Liszt, had been invited to write pieces for the same album. It is quite clear from Mendelssohn’s earnest theme, presented in severe four-part harmonies, that nothing frivolous is about to happen.

Far from being an inconsequential series of entertaining ideas, the seventeen variations are carefully structured in groups. The first half of the work is built on a gradual increase in tempo and rhythmic activity from the Andante sostenuto of both the theme itself and variation No 1, by way of a strict canon in staccato semiquavers in No 4 and the agitated syncopations of No 5, to the Allegro vivace of Nos 8 and 9. The scurrying triplet semiquavers of No 9 run up against the measured (Moderato) fugato of No 10, which is followed by the cantabile, melancholy No 11 and the violently percussive No 12. The one concession to a virtuoso fashion of the day is the application of Thalberg’s ‘three-hand’ technique to sustain the melodic line as a middle voice in No 13.

The way the score is set out suggests that up to this point the variations should follow each other with either the shortest of breaks or no break at all. Before No 14, however, Mendelssohn inserts a pause, presumably to highlight the consolatory aspect of the one variation in the major, an enchanting Adagio chorale. From there the tempo increases again through the syncopated chords of No 15 to the dazzling Allegro vivace of Nos 16 and 17, which last then slows down for a brief recall of the original theme over left-hand tremolandos. The haste of the Presto coda is intensified by the impression that one hand is chasing the other until they synchronize in the closing bars.

from notes by Gerald Larner © 2009


Other albums featuring this work
'Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 3 – Chopin & Mendelssohn' (APR5573)
Alfred Cortot – The Late Recordings, Vol. 3 – Chopin & Mendelssohn
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5573  Download only  
'Mendelssohn: Valerie Tryon plays Mendelssohn' (APR5595)
Mendelssohn: Valerie Tryon plays Mendelssohn
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99 APR5595  Download only  

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