Andrew Clements
The Guardian
December 2013

In releasing the two Brahms concertos together, Stephen Hough immediately invites comparisons with the finest recordings of the last half century. There is Emil Gilels’s unsurpassed pair of performances from the 1970s with Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic, and the leading recent version, from Nelson Freire with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly, which came out seven years ago. It’s a measure of Hough’s achievement that his accounts belong in such company. He’s a more reflective, less assertive pianist than either Gilels or Freire, though his performances never lack muscularity when required. The way in which he and conductor Mark Wigglesworth drive the opening movement of the First Concerto to its conclusion is thrillingly physical; at the other extreme, the delicacy of his playing in the finale of the Second, and the lilt he brings to some of its episodes, are delights. Where Hough does lose out to his rivals is in the orchestral playing. The Mozarteumorchester is decent enough, but when Gilels’s recordings were made the Berlin Phil was at its postwar peak; and no orchestra of the last decade has cultivated a richer Brahmsian sound than Leipzig’s.