Stephen Hough's Mozart Album
This is the kind of musical meal that any pianist with the imagination and culinary skills of a good chef should be able to put together. Sadly there are all too few pianists with the equivalent of Hough’s three Michelin stars.
Opening with two of Mozart’s solo masterpieces, the ear is welcomed into an intimate, pellucid sound world with a sophisticated grading of dynamics. Hough plays with what used to be called “a quiet hand”, particularly effective in the first movement of the B flat major Sonata in which he finds an unexpected melancholy amid the music’s basically optimistic character.
After the dramatic second (earlier) C minor Fantasia completed by Stadler, and Cramer’s attractive Etude, Op 103 No 6, we seem to be listening to a different pianist who now relishes the delicate, perfumed harmonies of Friedman’s Menuetto transcription. In the same vein, but imbued with witty Poulencian devices, Hough the pianist-composer reminds us how important charm is to the pianist’s arsenal. Again, the pianist changes. This time we hear a barn-storming virtuoso in the Liszt-Busoni Fantasy on “Non più andrai” and “Voi che sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro. More fragmentary than the better-known Don Giovanni Fantasy and not quite as effective, it nevertheless provides a hair-raising bravura display that deserves to be heard more often. At least, when played like this.