ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Stephen Hough’s English Piano Album
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67267
As Hough explains in his introduction, this disc was never meant to be a comprehensive look at English piano music but simply arrays some of his favourite home-grown pieces. There’s also a little something of his own (the two adorable Valses enigmatiques, which apparently contain musical ciphers).
The quality of the music varies quite widely: the works that stand out are Bantock’s Song to the Seals, which is rapt with atmosphere, three excellent pieces by York Bowen and Elgar’s gorgeously personal In Smyrna, while Hough’s waltzes are the most fun. The climax of the disc is Kenneth Leighton’s set of Six Studies: uncompromising works, some of which sound vaguely Messiaen-influenced, that demand both ruggedness and delicacy and give Hough the chance to show off a great deal of what he can do at the keyboard in terms of both agility and sonority. Some of the other pieces I personally could have done without, but no doubt Hough has his own reasons for making the selection.
Hough performs throughout with insight and attention to detail, allied to rich, fine, wide-ranging tone control and terrific pianistic flair. His performance is powerful, sympathetic and beautifully recorded, and his fans everywhere will be thrilled. Jessica Duchen