Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos: No. 1 in b?,
No. 2 in g,
No. 3 in E?,
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G,
Andante non troppo
(ed. Siloti & ed. Hough).
None but the Lonely Heart,
op. 6/6 (both arr. Hough)
Stephen Hough (pn); Osmo Vänskä, cond; Minnesota O
HYPERION 67711/2 (2 CDs: 141:10) Live: Minnesota 2009
The very speed and relentless nature of the famous opening of the First Concerto may surprise some, but it sets out Stephen Hough’s wares. This is a revisionist take on repertoire that is all too familiar. Hough seems to have gone out and deliberately shorn his reading of received wisdoms, of interpretative quirks that have accrued over the decades since the work was premiered. Integration between soloist and orchestra is tight, too, in a work where received thought might pit soloist continuously against the orchestra. Dialogues between piano and orchestral soloists are ultra-tight, and sound as if much rehearsal was lavished on this aspect.
Hough’s reading is perhaps lighter than most. This is not to play down the strength of his fortes, nor his double-octave displays, which remain as high-octane as any. But it does make the concerto more multifaceted than usual. No mere warhorse anymore, the concerto here rises in integrity while Hough time and time again reminds us that this is his carefully considered take on the score. Voice-leading, not something one always takes into account in Tchaikovsky, is notable here. Vänskä is a fine accompanist. A musician who himself revels in rethinking scores (listen to his Beethoven symphony cycle on BIS), it is as if Hough has met his dream soul mate. If cadenza passages are not as incendiary as, say, Argerich is wont to be, this is more a response to Hough’s conception than any failing. In keeping, then, the slow movement represents the height of sophistication and delicacy. Hough presents at times some surprising, and remarkable, washes of sound; the finale dances at a hectic speed. The fire comes from Hough’s determination; his conductor sticks with him all the way. The build-up to the final octave perorations is as effective as any other, and it is here that Hough finally lets it rip. The audience’s enthusiastic reaction says it all.
follows. Hough is a powerful advocate. At 28:24 this is an extended work, and Hough’s infinite variety of tone and pearly filigree ensure concentration does not wander, especially throughout the long (15:31) Andante mosso. A special word or two is warranted for cellist Anthony Ross’s impassioned contribution here.
The fillers to the first disc are two Hough arrangements. They are the perfect sign-offs. This is precisely the sort of repertoire in which Hough excels. Both are magnificently memorable in their sense of yearning.
Fascinating to compare Hough’s Second with the Tatiana Nikolayeva account on APR (5666, with the USSR State SO under Nikolai Anosov). Hough, entirely consistent with his view of the First Concerto, is lighter, more sparkly in his filigree, whereas Nikolayeva conveys an
-Russian heaviness and unsmiling delivery. The two interpretations could hardly be more different; they are complementary rather than adversarial, though, and should co-exist on every collector’s shelf. The achievement of both is to consistently cause one to wonder why this concerto still sits in the shadow of the First so much. Hough’s soloists in the Andante non troppo are violinist Jorja Fleezanis and cellist Ross again. Both play beautifully, perhaps especially so Ross’s soaring cello. Hough certainly matches Ross in terms of tenderness of utterance. The inclusion of the Hough version of this movement as the very final track on the twofer is interesting; interesting also to compare the timings between the original slow movement (13:27) and the Siloti edition (a mere 7:06). The finale is hugely entertaining, a helter-skelter ride that includes some phenomenal fingerwork from Hough. The orchestra plays pointedly and, it has to be said, magnificently throughout. Modern CD players, of course, enable one to program the Hough or Siloti slow movements in for curiosity’s sake.
I remain unconvinced about the Third Concerto as a piece in itself. It seems rather weak of invention, although Hough here makes the most powerful case imaginable. In his hands, it is almost worth it just for the infectious quality he brings to the theme with the rapid repeated notes. Vänskä has the strings positively swooning at one point, a nice touch and one that seems to hearken back to a bygone era of expression.
The recorded sound is vivid and involving throughout. A fitting 50th volume celebration to a series of major importance.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke