Pianist Stephen Hough’s Dream Album is an artful program of works by Liszt, Sibelius, Elgar and other familiar composers. The pieces are chosen for what Hough calls their ‘lyrical’ or ‘hallucinatory’ quality. Hough’s playing is utterly captivating and intensely intimate. He’s a magician, a tease, and a brilliant performer who creates an intoxicating dream world of pianistic expression.
The familiar repertoire items are exquisite and completely engaging—each one a gem. But the real impact of this recording is Hough’s own creative gift. Of the 27 tracks, around half are either his transcriptions or compositions. The scale of his ability to write in the language of the piano is astonishing. His fluency and enormous vocabulary give his compositions a rare potency. There are no extra notes, no empty, wasted phrases. Every element Hough creates is carefully and economically placed by his unerring musical judgment. This is the genius of his gift.
Listen to his arrangement of the traditional melody Blow the wind southerly and Strauss’ Radetzky March, and marvel at his musical commentary on the main thematic material. Moscow Nights gets the same treatment and undergoes a remarkable rebirth.
Niccolo’s Waltz is a witty nod to a Paganini Caprice, and Matilda’s Rhumba is a clever allusion to the famous Australian ode to the waltz, in march time! But my favourite is Hough’s Osmanthus Romp. Syncopated, highly energized and brimming with optimism, the composition captures the essence of Hough’s artistic soul.
This fabulous CD is going to get a lot of play.