The brilliant and iconoclastic British pianist Stephen Hough gave an exceptional recital Sunday afternoon in his third appearance at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
Hough, who recently won Gramophone’s 2008 Golden Disc Award for having recorded the most popular recording in the last 30 years (St. Saens’ complete works for piano and orchestra on Hyperion), doesn’t do things like other pianists. His program was typically different.
The pieces had connections either by nationality, mood, composers’ occupations or were performed by the great Swiss pianist Alfred Cortot. Hough explained all this in erudite program notes that he wrote.
He began with his own arrangement of Cortot’s transcription of Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which, according to one of the several pianists in the audience, was meatier with more notes and textures. Hough produced a big tone without heaviness, set strong pulsing rhythms and kept a steady inexorable pace.
The three shortish works by Faure were a delight with sweeps of sound, lovely melodies and romantic moods. In the Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Impromptu No. 5 in F-sharp minor and Barcarolle No. 5 in F-sharp minor, Hough’s tone was nuanced and tender. The palette was a sunny, golden one, which Hough expanded imaginatively. His wonderfully facile and even technique and excellent pedaling made the fast rushes of notes sound like grasses swaying in a breeze. They were wonderful moments.
Fires from within
All that changed in Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue in B minor, which Hough recently recorded. Virtuosic and orchestrally conceived with huge volumes and many technical lines, Hough hypnotized in this somber work lit with worshipful fires from within.
He was intense and dynamic in Copland’s 21 Piano Variations, which were like stalwart pillars of spare, abstract but powerfully and carefully sculpted forces.
Chopin’s Nocturne, Op 62, No. 1 had great subtlety and his Sonata No. 3 was a sustained fire that was poetry in sound. Hough skipped over the keys effortlessly with a song in his heart.
There were two encores: Debussy’s dreamy “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” and Hough’s own fiery “On Falla” (as in Manuel De Falla), which everyone thought was by Albeniz.
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