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“Vida Breve”
Johann Sebastian Bach (arr. F. Busoni): Partita n° 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 “Chaconne”
Frédéric Chopin: Piano Sonata n° 2 in B-Flat minor, opus 35
Franz Liszt: Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S170: n° 7, ”Funérailles” – Bagatelle sans tonalité (“Mephisto Waltz”), S216a
Ferruccio Busoni: Sonatina n° 6, BV284: “Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen”
Stephen Hough: Piano Sonata n° 4 “Vida Breve”
Traditional Korean (arr. S. Hough): Arirang
Charles Gounod (arr. S. Hough): Méditation sur le premier prélude de piano de J.S. Bach “Ave Maria”

Stephen Hough (piano)
Recording: St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, England (December 10-14, 2018) – 78’09
Hyperion CDA68260 (Distributed by PIAS) – Booklet in English, French and German

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next adventure.” J.K. Rowling

...as is this case in “Vida Breve”, whereby all composers have dealt with the subject line in the most conscientious manner. Stephen Hough’s mentality erases any improbabilities, but, instead, looks at all ways his predecessors would have expressed their feelings about this salient topic.

Stephen Hough has always had a marvelous knack for empathy and getting into the psyche of the artists. The image of Chopin in 1839 would unveil a time of sickness and tumult, but, at times, glimmers of hope. Such ups and downs and erratic behavior are cleanly evident in the depiction of the Piano Sonata’s second movement, “Scherzo”. M. Hough savors conflict, sedulously prodding away at the tempos without surfeit. The indelible "Marche funèbre" can be often bathed in triteness, yet Stephen Hough here moves the dirge cadence in a densely plodding manner and steady crescendos. Realization of death hovers on the horizon without clamping down too anxiously. While the Englishman rushes through the “Presto” at breakneck speed, the sudden guillotine-like close gives the entire piece a firm stamp of finality...a superbly coloured piece.

Segueing into Franz Liszt’s "Funérailles" makes perfect sense and a fitting backward glance/tribute to Chopin. As in the previous Chopin œuvre, Stephen Hough, again, triumphantly and patiently chisels away at the opening crescendo (along with a subsequent depiction in the latter half.) But the capriciousness of such a work is deftly managed…death knocks on the door. Stephen Hough makes the drama a gasping frisson of reality. The whirling dizziness of Bagatelle sans tonalité flies on a tightrope of magical sobriety...delineated by a perfect balance of contrasting triplets and metronomic three-quarter rhythms.

A pleasant turn-to-the-future reveals how Ferruccio Busoni fashioned his Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen with such modernity. Stephen Hough wastes no time in expressing the tricky maneuvers with enduring, plucky panache. Though the “fate motif” distantly surfaces during the several selections culled from Bizet’s opéra-comique, this has to be one of the most enlightening moments on the CD.

Most intriguing is the composer’s own creation, the album’s eponymous title…vastly beguiling yet ruffled with fortitude. The meandering has a neo-jazzy character which adds conundrum and stark abruption for the world to hear...death is unmitigated. Riveting!

What Stephen Hough does so brilliantly is provide refreshing contrasts to the earlier intensely-driven discourses, quelling unrest by invoking a bit of refreshed calm. M. Hough’s own version of Arirang is delicious in its whimsy and in its innocent glances. The harsh finality to life is delicately laid to rest when we turn to Gounod’s final Méditation that gives the album’s subject line a closing chapter of calming recompense.

This highly visual, introspective gentleman takes nothing for granted, for Stephen Hough is the purveyor of fashion and distinction, no matter the subject...and in this case, the final chapter of life has its own ceremonial awakening.

Stephen Hough Website

Christie Grimstad




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