Collection: New York Variations
WORKS: Étude Fantasy; Piano Variations; Fantasia; Ghost Variations
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67005
There’s a lot of professional pressure on successful players to avoid adventure and play safe and commercial. To a British audience, this music – excepting the Copland, which is a classic – is pretty well unknown territory.
To New Yorkers, and Stephen Hough is one for at least half the year, the composers are relatively established and conservative figures. Two of them are dead. Yet you couldn’t say the music here is tame – and it’s distinctly uninhibited. Corigliano’s work (1976) is a cycle of four Études, highly contrasted, the first full of rhetorical flourishes, the fourth explosive, the others quieter, more economical.
Ben Weber’s Fantasia (1946) is fluently written in a lush Romantic style; it happens to be 12-note, but teeters on the brink of tonality. George Tsontakis’s epic Variations (1991) – all 31:30 minutes of them – evoke the anarchic spirit of Beethoven, though it’s a theme by Mozart which emerges as the subject within the larger variations. I couldn’t say any of this is even second-rate music – Copland’s tough and powerful work is that, and possibly better – but Stephen Hough’s playing is glorious and seems to have no technical or expressive limitations at all. Adrian Jack