Tsontakis¥Schoenberg¥Berg¥Webern

COMPOSERS: Berg,Schoenberg,Tsontakis,Webern
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Tsontakis
WORKS: Man of Sorrows; Sarabesque: plus Schoenberg: Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19; Berg: Sonata; Webern: Piano Variations

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PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano);Dallas SO/Andrew Litton

CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67564
George Tsontakis’s Man of Sorrows is a six-movement meditation of nearly 40 minutes’ duration on Christ’s crucifixion. Partly inspired by a Byzantine icon, it derives much of its six-fold patterning and symmetries from the two three-note figures of Beethoven’s ‘Muss es sein?…Es muss sein’ in his last string quartet (words which Tsontakis interprets tragically), and two chords from the Diabelli Variations. Brilliantly written for the keyboard and scintillatingly orchestrated, it reminded me of Messiaen’s Turangalîla, Takemitsu’s Arc, the incessant motivic patterning of Panufnik and a certain brand of brash and glossy film music, though it’s surely coincidence that parts of the ‘Gethsemane’ movement recall John Barry’s Goldfingertheme. The piece is superbly played and recorded, patently sincere and easily assimilable.

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The intriguing couplings, apart from Tsontakis’s pleasant Sarabesque, provide an ideal foil to his more diffuse raptures. Stephen Hough is best known in 19th-century Romantic repertoire, yet these are by no means Romantic interpretations: the Schoenberg is flickering, impressionistic, the Berg and Webern in their different ways sinewy, muscular, febrile, with a bare minimum of pedal. Thus Hough’s approach is almost the opposite of the rich, warmly humane interpretations of Peter Hill, still my favourite interpreter of this repertoire; but Hough is always eloquent, on a level with the excellent Mitsuko Uchida on Philips. Calum MacDonald