Alex Baran
The Whole Note, Canada
January 2016

An enlightening quote by the performer opens the notes of Scriabin—Janáček, Sonatas & Poems. In it Stephen Hough explains his reason for alternating these two eccentric Slavic composers throughout the program of the CD. Describing Scriabin’s music as horizontal and Janáček’s as vertical, and further explaining how the two are essentially dissimilar, we have the rationale for the contrasting placement of all the music on this recording. Hough’s argument is that too much of either detracts from itself. But he also calls their voices contrasting and compelling, and this view is borne out in his playing.

Scriabin’s two sonatas, Nos 4 and 5, as well as the two Poèmes have that distinctive French impressionistic drift that is as seductive as it is hypnotic. Hough understands this form well and blends his lines with superb fluidness.

His approach to Janáček is, by necessity, very different. While somewhat programmatic the music is a demanding mix of romanticism, occasional moments of minimalism and plenty of modern form. Hough reflects the imagery beautifully in On the overgrown path—Book I. He captures the darkness of the Piano Sonata 1.X.1905, From the street, recalling the grim political events it marked as well as the composer’s deep personal struggles.

This recording is a mature and challenging project and is extraordinarily well done.