Chopin: Compete Waltzes

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Complete Waltzes
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano)

Launching his latest album with the earliest of the waltzes to which Chopin gave an opus number (Op. 18 in E flat, composed in 1833), Stephen Hough sets a sparkling tone for what follows on this altogether brilliant disc. With its distinctive ‘fanfare’ introduction and virtuosic coda, the work establishes a form Chopin was to make all his own. It may not have made as deep an impression on him as the mazurka, but the waltz, whether in the rather functional form that had reached Warsaw’s ballrooms before the young Chopin left Poland or the other incarnations he encountered in Vienna and Paris, is a dance he was to respond to throughout his creative life.
Hough is a pianist with all the elegance, wit and virtuosity required for these pieces, yet he also finds the deep vein of melancholy that runs through many of them. A few players may be smoother in the swirling Waltz in F, Op. 34 No. 3, but Hough is never one to over-varnish things. In his hands, the ardently restless Op. 42 in A flat, one of Chopin’s most ambitious waltzes, makes for exhilarating listening. In contrast to many other recordings of the complete Waltzes, Hough’s programme establishes a clear distinction between the works Chopin published and those issued posthumously, highlighting the ‘doubtful attributions’. And with a characteristically neat touch, he rounds his recital off with the Nocturne in E flat, Op. 9 No. 2, pointing up its echoes of a distant, half-remembered waltz. First-class recorded sound, too. John Allison