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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66969
Recording details: January 1997
Dudley Town Hall, Warwickshire, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: August 1997
Total duration: 10 minutes 39 seconds

'It should perhaps come as no surprise that Stephen Hough should prove so perfectly attuned to these works … if you opt for just a single recording, this would make an excellent first choice … the soft, stylish arpeggios that open the first work on the disc announce immediately that something special is on the way. Hough is now clearly first recommendation in the concertos' (Gramophone)

'[Hough] can scamper with the best and is able to incorporate delightful capriciousness without derailing the flow of thought … These performances…boast of nearly ideal lightness, vivacity and impetus' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Stephen Hough has the ideal qualities of sharp attention to rhythmic detail and an impeccable fluidity of line and phrase' (The Observer)

'You can tell this is special from the first chord … I don't think [Stephen Hough] has an equal on record in this music, even with competitors like Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia. Issues like this add to the feeling that the great Mendelssohn reappraisal is underway at last. It's long overdue' (The Independent)

'Biting intensity, yet with freer expressiveness and bigger contrasts he also brings out extra poetry and … a sparkling wit … A constant delight' (The Guardian)

'Once again we have Stephen Hough lavishing his exciting gifts upon a splendid Mendelssohn programme. I cannot envisage this splendidly recorded disc being absent from the year's honours list' (Classic CD)

'Expressive playing from this fine soloist – one has to marvel at anyone who can take on those devilish tempos' (The Scotsman)

'Hough offers far greater elegance and plusher tone … Hough is, as always, a delight to listen to, such as in his quicksilver scattering of thirds in the last movement of the Second Concerto' (Fanfare, USA)

'Glitteringly performed' (Daily Mail)

'Hough’s pianism …is elegant, spirited and poetic, and well-attuned, too, to the swirling skittishness of the concertos' finales … Hough’s reading, as throughout this disc, is a joy' (Birmingham Post)

'He is all fleet-fingered exhilaration in the outer movements and relaxes appealingly when the music turns inwards' (International Piano)

'Stephen Hough searches out the lyrical essence of the music rather than going for glitz’ (Stereo Review)

'Stephen Hough is a player of formidable talent, capturing the essence and spirit of Mendelssohn’s driving enthusiasm and creative wonder' (Yorkshire Post)

'Stephen Hough is, undoubtedly, one of the most elegant pianists before the public today … Hough does not fail to underscore this in the brilliant pyrotechnics' (Soundscapes, Australia)

'An impressive achievement all round' (Piano, Germany)

Capriccio Brillant in B minor, Op 22

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Despite its opus number the Capriccio was composed after the First Concerto. It dates from 1832, the year of Mendelssohn’s first meeting with Chopin during his second stay in Paris; hence its Franco-Italian title. The work begins with a slow introduction initiated by the piano alone, in which the late Philip Radcliffe justly points to the pervasive influence of Weber, both in the ideas themselves and in the orchestra’s accompanimental tendency towards detached chords. The piano writing is florid despite its delicacy, conjuring an expectation of virtuosity to come. An ostinato-like pattern from the piano launches the main body of the work, an Allegro con fuoco in which the solo part too makes extensive use of repeated chords by way of accompaniment to melodic material. A tentative ritardando leads to the second subject, declaimed joyfully by the orchestra and appropriated by the piano. This theme subsequently reappears in the tonic major, affirming adherence to sonata rondo principles. Despite one passage of semiquaver octaves broken between the hands, the music essays vivacity more than out-and-out virtuosity, perhaps partially confounding anticipations raised by the introduction. This might be seen as a shade self-denying in view of an account of a concert quoted by Ronald Smith in his definitive study, Alkan, Who Was Alkan? (Kahn and Averill, 1976), and originally reported in S S Stratton’s Mendelssohn (Dent Master Musicians, 1901). This apparently concerns a performance of Bach’s Triple Concerto in D minor at London’s Hanover Square Rooms in 1844. According to the witness, Charles Horsley, the pianists, Mendelssohn, Thalberg and Mendelssohn’s erstwhile teacher, Ignaz Moscheles, each improvised a cadenza during the last movement. In Smith’s words, ‘… Mendelssohn’s cadenza, the last, exploded in a veritable storm of double octaves which sustained its climax for a full five minutes [sic], bringing to a conclusion ‘an exhibition of mechanical skill and most perfect inspiration which neither before nor since … has ever been approached. The effect on the audience was electric’.’

Lest the above seem to deny what has already been said, Mendelssohn’s comment afterwards is revealing: ‘I thought the people might like some octaves so I played them.’ (Smith then points out that there are no cadenza points in the movement in question, adding ‘Music must have been fun in those days!’)

Radcliffe disparaged the Capriccio on account of ‘a second subject of startling banality’. A scholar of gently dry humour (and a profound lover of Mendelssohn’s music), he may be harmlessly mistrusted in this utterance, impenetrable in print but more likely in speech to indicate secret glee than to deliver censure. Certainly few of the composer’s other devotees have resisted the Capriccio’s delightfully unassuming charms.

from notes by Francis Pott © 1997

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