Liszt Années de pèlerinage - Suisse
It’s clear that Stephen Hough has technically and spiritually digested the first book of Années de pèlerinage to the extent that he can risk personalising certain pieces without sounding the least bit mannered. In ‘Au bord d’une source’, for example, he employs liberal fluctuations of tempo and unconventional voicings that still manage to convey the composer’s tranquillo directive. Likewise, he pushes the espressivo rhetoric of the brooding introduction to ‘Vallée d’Obermann’ and still keeps the music’s narrative trajectory alive through his exquisite tonal control and subtle pedal effects.
Hough matches Jorge Bolet’s sustained phrasing in the opening piece’s slow, ceremonial chords, and shades the tremolando sequences with even more variety of tone and texture. In contrast to the deliberation with which Lazar Berman and Mûza Rubackyté play ‘Eglogue’, Hough (again, like Bolet) takes Liszt’s Allegretto con moto seriously (he feels the music ‘in two’ rather than ‘in four’), and is one of the few pianists on record to differentiate accurately the composer’s accentuations (bars 26-30 and similar places).
Curiously, he’s less attentive to the woodwind-like staccati in ‘Pastorale’ than Bolet, while even his well-oiled octaves throughout ‘Orage’ yield to Rubackyté’s more dynamic, volatile temparament. Her sparkling transparency in ‘Au bord’ results from her close adherence to the sempre staccato marking Hough largely sidesteps.
To fill out the disc, Hough presents all three of Liszt’s Gounod opera paraphrases. The introspective Roméo et Juliette and La reine de Saba pieces showcase his ravishing tonal palette, while he aims to milk maximum musical value and minimum surface glitter from the Faust Waltz paraphrase’s garish piano writing. To my ears, the piece works better via flashier, more scintillating performances but Hough’s formidable virtuosity certainly holds its own.