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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: 21 minutes 2 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)

Piano Concerto No 2 in D minor, Op 40

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Second Piano Concerto was composed for the Birmingham Festival of 1837 and was premiered there with Mendelssohn himself at the piano. The work was written just after the composer’s honeymoon. This detail, surprising in view of the sober beginning, may be explained by the fact that Mendelssohn had actually returned to France with the conscious intention of seeking a wife—his family felt this was the only means of arousing him from deep depression resulting from his beloved father’s death. Matters brighten up as the work progresses, moreover, and the opening may in any case be a matter of a simple liking for a common chord at a particular pitch. William Smyth Rockstro, an English pupil present at a Mendelssohn class studying Hummel’s Septet in D minor, comments:

… we well remember the look of blank dismay … as each pupil in his turn after playing the first chord, and receiving an instantaneous reproof for its want of sonority, was invited to resign his seat in favour of an equally unfortunate successor. Mendelssohn’s own manner of playing grand chords … was peculiarly impressive.

Such is the depth of reflection presumably informing the opening chords of this Concerto, orchestral though they are. Again the absence of an extended tutti promotes a sense of concision, for the piano enters almost at once. After its recitative-like response the process is repeated, expanding via piano octaves into a full exposition. Thereafter the texture is much as in the First Concerto. A second subject emerges largely unheralded from a continuum of rippling piano semiquavers against a sustained orchestral background. The development section is concerned primarily with quaver movement derived from the first extended tutti. As with the G minor work, the recapitulation subverts the expected coda, this time briefly restating the opening bars fortissimo with an austerity reminiscent of ‘Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts’ in Handel’s Messiah, before an introspective piano solo again leads directly into the slow movement. This is marked Adagio: Molto sostenuto and inhabits the key of B flat major. In its own entirely personal way it aspires to something of the prayer-like quality of certain Beethoven movements, notably the central one in his ‘Emperor’ Concerto, and it is undoubtedly one of Mendelssohn’s most heartfelt and affecting inspirations, very possibly prompted by the grief and joy by which his life had recently been touched in fairly quick succession.

The finale begins in the transitional key of G minor and leads into the sovereign tonic, now transformed into D major—a device comparably used by Rachmaninov in his famous Second Concerto. Mendelssohn here allows the sun to come out fully in a Presto scherzando in triple time. The piano’s first theme neatly complements the introduction by placing its emphatic downbeat dotted rhythm on an upbeat. Despite a certain sameness of semiquaver figuration which at times reminds one of moto perpetuo-style Bach preludes, this is a straightforwardly happy and endearing movement, comparable in its rhythms and extrovert style with the finale of the splendid Fourth Concerto by Saint-Saëns.

from notes by Francis Pott © 1997

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