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Tradition can weigh heavily on concert pianists, often far too heavily to permit spontaneity to enter the alchemy of their interpretations. Stephen Hough’s seasoned artistry draws vital inspiration from the past without carrying its burdens into the present, a supremely healthy condition that delivers life and irresistible spirit to his latest album. Those tempted to ask why the world needs another recording of the Liszt and Grieg concertos should find the answer in the countless insights and divinations sparked by all concerned with this project. The pianist, in common company with past greats, here inhabits the compelling roles of romantic hero, musical bard and agent for the honest expression of human emotions.

Legend has it that Hans von Bülow added words to the opening of his father-in-law’s First Piano Concerto: ‘Das versteht ihr alle nicht. Haha!’ (‘None of you understand this. Haha!’). Liszt’s work is sufficiently quixotic to ensnare unwary performers in its thick thematic undergrowth. Hough dispels the clouds of unknowing with inventive power and technical brilliance, eloquently supported by the Bergen Philharmonic and Andrew Litton. His reading, while dramatic and unconstrained, remains essentially poetic: listen, for instance, to the Scherzo’s subtly nuanced metamorphosis from the ballroom to the battlefield. Litton’s warm-toned orchestra deploys its most important instruments, the ears of its players, to engage with Hough’s music making, magnifying the impassioned fire and lyrical intensity of the Grieg. Few recordings deserve to be branded as significant; this one, however, demands the epithet.

ANDREW STEWART Read the full review on Agora Classica


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