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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67005
Recording details: July 1996
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 1998
Total duration: 16 minutes 35 seconds

'Hough's playing is glorious' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Scintillating performances and vivid sonics from Hyperion. Even the notes, by Hough himself, are superlative' (American Record Guide)

‘impressive virtuosity, as musically purposeful as it’s exciting … Hough’s brilliantly exact judgement of sonority in Copland’s Piano Variations – chiselled, rather than flinty  … makes this the best performance I’ve heard’ (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hough is supremely and charismatically on top of it all … An iron fist in a glove of softest velvet … He possesses a mesmerising range of colours, knows how to be intellectual without being cerebral, and has the knack of making everything sound spontaneous … Hough has notched up some fine things hitherto. This is probably one of the finest’ (Classic CD)

'This disc is a remarkable combination of artistic vision, stunning performance technique, and curatorial intelligence. Stephen Hough seems to have it all—blazing technique, real artistic vision, an adventurous curiosity, and a deft style as an annotator. A great piano album and a loving testament to the strength of a strain of American music that is expressive and humanistic while remaining open to the challenges of its time' (Fanfare, USA)

‘his playing is unerringly musical in its intentions … This is a disc of the highest musical and interpretative quality whose appeal lies as much in the quality of the pianism as in the fascinating repertoire’ (Hi-Fi News)

'Everything about this production (including recorded sound of almost palpable realism) deserves the highest praise' (International Piano)

‘Mr. Hough’s choices, which he plays with élan, provide a radically concentrated glimpse at this nation’s piano music’ (Wall Street Journal)

‘England’s most imaginative pianist pays tribute to America’s finest solo piano music’ (Time Magazine)

‘a superb survey’ (San Francisco Examiner)

'Startling virtuosity and probing musicality. I have never heard Copland's Variations played with such variety of tone and pinpoint articulation, nor the Corigliano rendered with such plasticity of tempo and mood' (Piano & Keyboard)

‘brilliant performances’ (The New Yorker, USA)

‘[Hough] applies his formidable technique and fine interpretive sense to nearly overpowering effect … [Hough] renders these movements sonic collages, contrasting bold colors with subtle hues worthy of the French Impressionists’ (The New York Times)

Etude Fantasy
composer
1976

Introduction  EnglishFrançais
John Corigliano’s emergence as one of the most important American composers of the twentieth century has been the result of a steady but often hidden growth. Under-appreciated outside his native country for many years, he sprang into international view with his astonishing First Symphony (1989), a work of total maturity, originality and greatness. This symphony has now firmly entered the international repertoire in a way virtually unique for a contemporary work of its size and difficulty, receiving performances to date by close to eighty orchestras in seventeen countries. (On a personal, anecdotal note, it was my own score of the Albeniz/Godowsky Tango—which Corigliano borrowed without telling me what it was for—which provided the inspiration for the haunting off-stage piano episodes in the work.) Following on from the symphony a number of major works have appeared, most notably the opera The Ghosts of Versailles (1990)—the Metropolitan Opera’s first commission since 1967; and the String Quartet (1996)—commissioned by the Cleveland Quartet for their final concerts and recording. His earlier works, always performed with great success and frequency, are now established as central works of the repertoire.

Among these latter is the Etude Fantasy (1976) which comes from the end of Corigliano’s first period of composition, described by the composer as a ‘tense, histrionic outgrowth of the “clean” American sound of Barber, Copland, Harris, and Schuman’. It is a work of tremendous formal unity, as well as being a dazzling display piece for the performer with not a few treacherous stretches of vertiginous virtuosity! It was premiered by James Tocco on 9 October 1976.

The following notes from the composer are a succinct guide for the listener:

My Etude Fantasy is actually a set of studies combined into the episodic form and character of a fantasy. The material in the studies is related most obviously by the interval of a second (and its inversion and expansion to sevenths and ninths) which is used both melodically and in the building of the work’s harmonic structure.
The first etude is for the left hand alone—a 3½-minute, bold, often ferocious statement which introduces both an opening six-note row (the first six notes of the work) and a melodic germ (marked ‘icy’ in the score) which follows the initial outburst. This etude reaches a climax in which both the row and the thematic germ are heard together, and ends as the right hand enters, high on the keyboard, playing a pianissimo, slow chromatic descent which introduces the next etude—a study in legato playing.
In this short second etude both hands slowly float downward as a constant crossing of contrapuntal lines provides melodic interest. The sustaining of sound as well as the clarity of crossed voices is important here.
The third etude follows—a fleet development on the simple pattern of a fifth (fingers one and five) contracting to a third (fingers two and four). In this section there is much crossing of hands and during the process a melody emerges in the top voices. A build-up leads to a highly chromatic middle section (marked ‘slithery’) with sudden virtuosic outbursts, after which the melody returns to end the etude as it began.
The fourth etude is a study of ornaments. Trills, grace notes, tremolos, glissandos and roulades ornament the opening material (Etude 1) and then develop the first four notes of the third etude into a frenetically charged scherzando where the four fingers of the left hand softly play a low cluster of notes (like a distant drum) as the thumb alternates with the right hand in rapid barbaric thrusts. This leads to a restatement of the opening six-note row of the Fantasy in a highly ornamented fashion.
After a sonorous climax comes the final etude, a study of melody. In it, the player is required to isolate the melodic line, projecting it through the filigree which surrounds it; here the atmosphere is desolate and non-climactic, and the material is based entirely on the melodic implication of the left-hand etude, with slight references to the second (legato) etude. The work ends quietly with the opening motto heard in retrograde accompanying the mournful two-note ostinato.

from notes by Stephen Hough © 1998

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