An exquisite gourmet experience – could it be piano recording of the year?
This may sound eccentric, but pretty much all you need to know about this masterly, magnificent recital can be gleaned from listening to the three minutes of Matilda’s Waltz that serves for an encore (of sorts). Hough himself has converted the traditional Waltzing Matilda, aptly, to a waltz. The famous melody sings but is so delicately poised, so supremely well balanced at both ends of the stave, nothing overdone, everything satisfying, that the word “perfection” does not seem hyperbolic.
So it is throughout the programme. Balance is the watchword, but taste is the driving force – not only so that everything is tastefully done, which it is, but that everything, as Jeremy Nicholas points out, has its own unique and distinctive flavour. But always there is the guiding, rock-solid musical personality of Hough. Nothing screams out, there is no ostentatious flamboyance, but the listener is compelled to lend an ever-more attentive ear and is rewarded with endlessly changing, subtle hues and many layers of complexity.
This is Stephen Hough, master pianist (and, of course, Gramophone Gold Disc winner) at his formidable best. In a hotly contested month, it would take something special indeed to be CD of the month. This is it.
-- Gramophone [5/2009]