The latest journey in Stephen Hough’s musical globetrotting adventures brings us to France, with a few sneak peeks across the border, such as the opening salvo, Alfred Cortot’s arrangement of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565. It’s a more overtly virtuosic affair than Busoni’s thicker, less glittery transcription. Hough’s octave work positively sizzles, and his big bass-register chords explode without the least splintering. Cortot’s altogether more lyrical solo-piano reworking of the Arioso from Bach’s F minor keyboard concerto shimmers via Hough’s ravishing melody/accompaniment separation.
The pianist’s velvet legato touch and ultra-sensitive ear for harmonic inflectionRead more yield some of the most remarkable Fauré playing on disc in the Nocturne No. 6, C-sharp minor Improvisation, F-sharp minor Impromptu, and Fifth Barcarolle. In Ravel’s Alborada de gracioso, Hough’s awesomely accurate repeated notes and perfectly gauged dynamic outbursts are matched by his underlining of dissonances that other pianists tend to pacify. Chabrier’s delicate high-register writing in Mélancolie acquires many newfound colors in Hough’s hands, while the similarly-named Poulenc composition’s long melodic lines are pure silk. Hough correctly tosses off Poulenc’s C minor Nocturne and its homage to Chopin’s A major Prelude in deadpan fashion, while giving dignified eloquence to Chaminade’s Automne.
No matter how dark and moody Alkan’s bass lines may get in his Op. 31 No. 8, Hough never muddies the waters, and makes sure to account for every murky note. At first Debussy’s Claire de lune seems a bit too introspective and sober, yet Hough observes the carefully-scaled dynamics in the music’s gradual build to the point when the texture is noticeably brighter when the main theme returns. Hough’s keyboard transformation of Delibes’ Pizzicati offers quite a variety of plectra to savor. The pianist saves his most audacious pianism for the grand finale in the form of Liszt’s Réminiscences of Halévy’s opera La juive, effortlessly dispatching the final section’s giddy repeated notes and shading the central Polonaise episode with boundless nuance and barely a trace of pedal (although note that Hough effectively creates his own edition of the work through cuts and other textual emendations). Hyperion’s excellent engineering and Harriet Smith’s chatty yet information-packed annotations round out an imaginative and brilliantly executed program. Not to be missed!
Nocturnes for Piano (Poulenc): No 4 in C minor "Bal fantôme"
Concert Etudes for Piano (Chaminade): No 2: Autumn
Average Customer Review: ( 5 Customer Reviews )
Hough's "French" AlbumApril 16, 2013By J. Vaughan (Tulsa, OK)See All My Reviews"Stephen Hough's "French Album" is a beautiful collection of piano music, done with the finesse and sensitivity we've learned to expect from him. But it's only partly French and for that reason seems rather like a collection of left-over tracks lumped randomly. The first two tracks are J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" and the "Arioso" from Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor. The concluding selection is Liszt's rather bombastic "Reminiscences de 'La Juive'". Three of the seventeen tracks are thus by non-French composers. We're grateful for all this music, rendered with great sensitivity and control. But there's so much superb French music that Hough might have offered, and doesn't. I'd give a lot to have his renditions of piano music by Franck, Lalo and Saint-Saens. The piece by Alkan("La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer")is interesting, but deficient in charm and melodic beauty. Hough generously offers four pieces by Faure and three by Poulenc. The album is well worth the price for those alone. The selections by Massenet and Chaminade are beautifully performed, as is Debussy's "Clair de Lune". One wishes, however, that Hough had chosen a piece less often performed. Flutist Richard Sherman recently released a disc with the same title: "The French Album". On it Sherman, accompanied by pianist Kimberly Schmidt, offers works by Poulenc, Milhaud, Faure, Dutilleux and--unusual--six of Debussy's pieces from the Songs of Bilitis, inspired by the prose poems of his friend Pierre Louys. These are rarely heard and are very welcome. Hough's phrasing and emotional depth are impressive throughout. I've never heard "Clair de Lune" played with more enchanting effect. The moods on the disc vary from lively and dramatic to playful, dreamy or nearly symphonic in complexity. I recommend the album, only wishing it were more "French". J. Vaughan"Report Abuse
Hough as always -- great!December 12, 2012By Marsha C. (San Francisco, CA)See All My Reviews"Love Stephen Hough. His exploration of music is always intelligent and perfect."Report Abuse
"FRENCH"??December 1, 2012By E. Farrington (Mulino, OR)See All My Reviews"This album was called a French Album, but the first two tracks were the music of J.S. Bach. I do NOT like J.S. Bach played on the piano. Bach wrote for harpsichord or organ. I am a member of the American Guild of Organists and most of us agree that the piano is not a good instrument on which to hear the music of J.S. Bach performed. There were no pianos in Bach's time."Report Abuse
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