Having recorded most of Chopin’s major genres Stephen Hough now turns to the Nocturnes, for him ‘a corpus of some of the finest operatic arias ever written’.
Hough presents the Nocturne in E flat major Op55/2—in his words ‘a seamless robe of ecstasy’—with transcendental pianistic and musical sheen. Here are all of Chopin’s elegantly curvetting lines and the cantabile of a coloratura diva. He adds authentic improvisatory flourishes (Chopin rarely ornamented his music twice the same way) and reminds us of Chopin’s ambivalent attitude to the salons of the Paris aristocracy (simultaneously mocking and fawning) .
Hough’s playing is of an enviable freedom and flexibility, his shot-silk pianism endlessly blossoming with colour and nuance. Tempi are rapid, the manner sometimes cool to the point of detachment (try the Nocturne in D flat), yet few pianists can approach him as a master of finesse, and he is presented in sumptuous sound.