WORKS: Mazurkas, Op. 63 Nos 2-3, Op. 67 No. 4 & Op. 68 No. 4; Barcarolle in F minor, Op. 60; Polonaise-Fantasy in A flat, Op. 61; Nocturnes, Op. 62 Nos 1-2; Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 58; Berceuse in D flat, Op. 57
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67764
The late masterpieces featured in this thoughtful new Chopin recital were all written when the composer was between 33 and 37 years old – that is, in the years 1843 to ’47. Had Chopin lived beyond 1849 they might now be viewed as ‘middle period’ works, but instead we are left to ponder whether this music reflects any growing awareness by the composer of his mortality.
Already by 1841 his output had slowed down, and he wrote little of significance after his traumatic break with George Sand in 1847. The only thing that can be said with certainty was that during this period he started to write in new genres – witness the Berceuse, Barcarolle and Polonaise-Fantasy, all included here.
Hough stresses the Classical outlook of Chopin’s Romanticism, even in a programme encompassing some of his most harmonically advanced music. The opening Barcarolle has rare clarity, and the Berceuse rounds things off cleanly.
In between, Hough’s introverted Mazurkas may fail to tap deeply into the music’s Polish genes, but he plays with masterful control in the big Polonaise-Fantasy that forms the disc’s centrepiece. The B minor Sonata opens in a magisterial yet measured way, yet a lack of fire seems to hold things back.
The Nocturnes, too, sound surprisingly objective, though that may have something to do with a recording sound that verges on the dry. This being Hough, there’s plenty to admire, but less than usual by way of excitement. John Allison