Stephen Hough: In the Night
A new disc from Stephen Hough is always welcome. How will he surprise us this time and where will he take us? The answer is into the night – but not gentle or with a mug of cocoa.
There’s the dark and turbulent eponymous tone-poem and the far-from-restful presto finale of the Moonlight, given additional agitation by Hough’s spiky left-hand off-beats. The two adroitly chosen Nocturnes show that Chopin’s nocturnal reveries could be as dark and threatening in their own way as Hough’s, if his Sonata Notturno luminoso is anything to go by. Angular, dissonant, fiery and often bleak, this work (18'23" in length) suggests, among its many images, ‘the irrational fears or the disturbing dreams which are only darkened by the harsh glare of a suspended, dusty light bulb’ (the composer’s useful route map in a note appended to Harriet Smith’s thoughtful booklet). Finally we have the night-time revels of a masked ball. The opening of Carnaval is strangely perfunctory (it’s marked quasi maestoso) but this is, for the most part, a performance enlivened by the touch of a master pianist: the tied D at the end of ‘Pantalon et Columbine’ (how does he do that?) and the ppp final bar of ‘Paganini’ are two telling instances.
One problem I have with this disc is with the sound. Is it the generous acoustic of the Wyastone Concert Hall or the microphone placement therein that makes the piano seem unfocused, with more definition in the treble and bass than in the middle of the range? Whatever, it’s certainly not the classic Hyperion sound.