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Track(s) taken from CDA66838

Ballade No 2, Op 87

composer
c1931

Stephen Hough (piano)
Recording details: September 1995
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 1996
Total duration: 10 minutes 0 seconds

Cover artwork: A Wet Night at Piccadilly Circus (1910) by Arthur Hacker (1858-1919)
Royal Academy of Arts, London
 
1

Reviews

'This disc came as quite a revelation … this eloquent new collection suggests that a radical reappraisal of Bowen's compositional achievement is long overdue … it is well-nigh impossible to imagine a more sensitive or imperious advocate for Bowen's art than Stephen Hough who responds with his customary effortless technical mastery, rapt affection and intrepid panache … my own record of the year … lovely music, criminally neglected, given irreproachably eloquent and irresistibly stylish advocacy by this consummate artist. Music-making of exquisite poise and remarkable perception … York Bowen could have no more ardent or pianistically adroit advocate’ (Gramophone)

'Few new discs of piano music match this for sheer magic: magnetic performances that come as a revelation. Vivid piano sound' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

‘Without doubt one of the most interesting and valuable piano releases of 1996 … ideal vehicles for the superlative pianism of Mr. Hough … the smaller preludes disclose the widest possible gamut of moods and colors and are couched in pianistic trappings of the first order … Hough’s performances leave absolutely nothing to be desired’ (American Record Guide)

‘Buried English gold unearthed by a brilliant treasure hunter … I can think of few other living pianists who … can play them with such persuasive advocacy and winning yet unforced charm’ (Classic CD)

'On the basis of this spectacular release, it is easy to imagine a Bowen revival, for this is deeply satisfying, richly melodic music to warm the heart of any romantic … The superb young British pianist Stephen Hough plays with bracing virtuosity and golden tone. I'm sure Hough could play scales and put together an interesting recital. In this case he applies his artistry to music of great integrity, and the result is a recorded recital of special distinction' (Fanfare, USA)

‘No other living pianist could hope to play such music with comparable richness, sensuous magic and depth of feeling. Time and again he sets the mind and senses reeling … in the final pages of the Fifth Sonata … you will, awed and bemused, admit you are in the presence of pianistic genius … Even more remarkable than such feats of strength and brilliantly controlled fury is Stephen Hough’s poetic fervour in those many pages that glance longingly over the shoulder at a bygone age … not only a musical Elysium but one of the most remarkable of all modern piano records’ (Hi-Fi News)

‘Hough plays [Fifth Piano Sonata] with barely checked emotion, leaving nothing in reserve … Bowen’s music requires a serene, lilting-like approach from the pianist to realise the subtle beauty of the piece, and Stephen Hough provides this with consummate ease … Bowen would indeed have been a remarkable pianist if he could play his works as well as Stephen Hough’ (Soundscapes, Australia)

'Ici une pyrotechnie évoquant le grand piano russe se met au service d'une harmonie subtile, richement chromatique' (Diapason, France)

'Hough evidencia unos medios técnicos espectaculares y una agilidad mecánica que la permite une extraordinaria nitidez' (Scherzo, Spain)
The second Ballade was published by the Anglo-French house in 1931. It would be surprising if the mere title did not remind one of Chopin, whose imaginative response to its narrative connotations remains unique. In the event Bowen seems intent upon evoking specifically the rhythmic momentum with which the second of Chopin’s four Ballades opens. Harmonically Bowen’s richly opulent inspiration may recall variously Delius, Ireland, or the Delius-inflected accents of Moeran in his solo piano idyll Summer Valley. A notable fondness for non-cadential dominant ninth formations reveals also the composer’s awareness of Debussy, this being confirmed by subsequent filigree writing arising from the whole tone scale. An early climax proves to have been merely the shape of things to come. A prolonged central passage of considerable force encompasses figurations recognizably and deliberately arising from stormier moments in Chopin’s second and third Ballades, these being persuasively recreated on Bowen’s own terms. After a temporary lull this material regenerates itself in music of formidable momentum and pianistic virtuosity, subsiding only as the work’s opening theme reappears beneath gradually dwindling right hand arpeggiation. A full (though varied) recapitulation of the first section brings this imposing work to an enigmatic end not unlike that with which Bowen was later to crown the last of his Twenty-four Preludes.

from notes by Francis Pott 1996

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