'We must confidently await the genius who will show us a brilliant new way of combining orchestra and piano', wrote Schumann in 1839. That genius turned out to be Schumann himself, as cellist Steven Isserlis points out in his personable and informative sleeve notes to Stephen Hough's new concerto disc. Schumann's 1845 Piano Concerto has a musical integrity and poetic individuality that makes it stand out from the virtuosic showpieces of his contemporaries. It's been recorded countless times yet on the evidence of two fine new recordings—one from Hough, the other from Ingrid Fliter—there's still room for something fresh to be said with this evergreen music.
Hough joins forces with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons for a robust, grand reading that nonetheless leaves room for lyricism and introspection—sometimes rather too much so, as in the almost sagging Allegro affetuoso. But it's in the Dvořák Piano Concerto in G minor—long neglected but rescued by the great Sviatoslav Richter—that Hough truly sparkles. There's glowing tenderness irresistible buoyancy and soaring grandeur in the first movement Grieg-like lyricism in the Andante sostenuto and Tchaikovskian dialogue with the wind, while the Finale has infectious spirit. The CBSO's playing is smart and colourful.