HOUGH Was mit der Tränen geschiet. Herbstlieber

Stephen Hough viewed as composer first, pianist second

Author: 
Jed Distler

HOUGH Was mit der Tränen geschiet. Herbstlieber

  • Was mit der Tränen geschiet
  • (Un) Piccolo Sonatina
  • Bridgewater
  • Herbstlieber
  • Sonata for Piano 'Broken branches'
  • (The) Loneliest Wilderness

Although most Gramophone readers know Stephen Hough as one of his generation’s foremost pianists, he also trained as a composer and has stepped up his creative output during the past decade. His eclectic tonal style embraces a wide array of influences yet maintains its own personality.

The wonderful trio for piccolo, contrabassoon and piano that opens this disc exploits each wind instrument’s registral extremes (especially in the haunting Andante finale’s slow, sustained unison lines) as well as Hough’s witty melodic interplay (Poulenc’s ghost benignly hovers over the proceedings). If anything, piccolo soloist Michael Hasel shines even more in a short solo sonata whose scampering vivace finale contrasts with slower, wistful lyrical writing in the first two movements that makes evocative use of the instrument’s lower register.

Bridgewater’s ‘romantic idyll’ subtitle couldn’t be more appropriate for this gorgeous, tuneful six-minute bassoon-and-piano piece, while the five Rilke song-settings Herbstlieder recall Richard Strauss at his most impassioned and intricate. Hough’s excellent booklet-notes cite the short continuous movements of Janá∂ek’s On an Overgrown Path as a model for his one-movement Piano Sonata, which contains virtuoso display without the gloss and glitter one usually gets from pianists who compose.

The sad, slowly unfolding elegy for cello and orchestra, The Loneliest Wilderness, showcases Hough’s gifts for subtle, transparent orchestration and deploying solo instruments to memorable, democratic effect. In short, Hough’s music speaks with substance, fluent ease, confidence and communicative immediacy. That makes him a real composer. It goes without saying that Hough and his colleagues serve up ideal, splendidly engineered performances. A cherishable release.

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