WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1-3; plus Concerto No. 2 – Andante non troppo (two versions: ed. Siloti, ed. Hough); Concert Fantasia in G; Solitude; None but the Lonely Heart
PERFORMER: Stephen Hough (piano); Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67711/2
Whether he’s playing Hummel, Scharwenka and Sauer or Saint-Saëns and Rachmaninov, Stephen Hough almost always offers concerto performances that are guaranteed to set the pulses racing. The same can certainly be said of this warmly recorded Tchaikovsky set which appropriately forms the 50th release in Hyperion’s hugely enterprising Romantic Piano Concerto series.
As with his highly acclaimed Rachmaninov cycle, Hough decided to issue these recordings in live performances in partnership with a top American orchestra. Working alongside Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra appears to have been an inspired move. Both soloist and conductor seem committed to emphasising the architectural integrity of Tchaikovsky’s musical thinking, leading them to adopt some pretty brisk speeds for the outer movements of the First and Second Concertos. Indeed some may feel slightly disconcerted by the almost breathless approach to the introduction to the First which is not quite as molto maestoso as is the case in several other recordings.
Yet by keeping things moving and delivering performances that project an exceptionally high level of adrenalin, Hough brings a much greater degree of coherence to the episodic nature of the first movement of the Second, and the long cadenzas that feature in each of these works sound far less prolix than usual. Even the somewhat discursive Concert Fantasia and the Third are presented in the best possible light, the orchestra responding very incisively to Hough’s dynamic and spontaneous playing.
As a bonus Hough offers two alternative versions of the slow movement of the Second, first the outrageously bowdlerised Siloti version and then Hough’s own resourceful reworking which provides a more balanced relationship between the piano and the solo violin and cello. Also it’s good to have Hough’s exquisite transcriptions of two songs which act as a marvellous counterbalance to the heightened intensity of the concerto recordings. Erik Levi