Solo - Yo-Yo Ma
This delightful release finds Stephen Hough revisiting Virgin territory. A bad pun, yes, but not an oxymoron! Hough recorded two similar collections for his former label (newly reissued by Virgin as a two-for-one set). Here as then, the pianist fashions a viable programme culled from a bottomless piano bench of transcriptions, encores and other sundry ear-ticklers. Indeed, Hough proves that one can make a well-balanced meal using only desserts. Modern pianists, to be sure, are more calorie conscious than their forebears, and Hough is no exception. It's not his way to emphasize inner voices or linger over juicy modulatory patterns, a la Hofmann, Moiseiwitsch, Horowitz, Cortot or Cherkassky. If Hough prefers to bind Godowsky's garish counterpoints with skimmed milk rather than double cream, he's cheeky (and smart!) enough to insert his own ossias into Moskowski's Etincelles, or to retool the Tchaikovsky/Pabst Sleeping Beauty Paraphrase to more brilliant pianistic effect.
As in his previous 'Piano Albums', Hough serves up his own Rodgers & Hammerstein transcriptions. If the decorative note-spinning in 'Hello, Young Lovers' distracts from rather than enhances the eloquent original, the pianist's giddy romp through 'The Carousel Waltz' is a tour de force that brilliantly recaptures both the tender and tough-minded qualities inherent in the musical's book. Hough's own Etude de Concert gets plenty of finger-twisting mileage out of a rather unmemorable theme, harmonized, however, with clever Gershwinisms. The unadorned Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky selections are played with heartfelt simplicity and a lean yet singing sonority. While the aforementioned Sleeping Beauty makes for a powerful conclusion, I reprogrammed my CD player so that Hough's understated yet richly fulfilling Londonderry air came last, so that I could clear my sated palette with an after-dinner mint.'