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Review: Stephen Hough, Piano Recital, Snape Proms, August 31

PUBLISHED: 11:52 04 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:52 04 September 2017

Stephen Hough Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Stephen Hough Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke


Beethoven, Schumann and Debussy were three of the most inventive and influential composers for the piano and, with the guiding hand of soloist Stephen Hough, some of their finest compositions were the basis of an evening of high musical drama alongside illuminating comparisons and contrasts.

Both halves of the concert began with Debussy, the first with the celebrated Clair de lune and the second with La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune, the latter inhabiting a similar sound world to the former but with a quite different character. In the first half Hough played three Images from Book 2 with the utmost delicacy and finesse along with perfectly judged characterisation in Poissons d’or.

Arguably his finest work for solo piano, Schumann’s Fantasy in C began life as an expansive, single-movement declaration of love to his future wife. Two further movements were added with the intention of donating the sales money towards a new monument for Beethoven proposed by Liszt; the monument never materialised but Liszt was the dedicatee of this magnificent piece with its extreme technical demands.

Hough gave the opening sforzando a dramatic strike and the passionate theme soared as if borne aloft by the rising currents of semiquavers. There was real emotional intensity here, as if we were re-living the composer’s tortuous path to claiming Clara Wieck.

The stirring second movement had a noble grandeur and was brought to a brilliant end while the third movement was beautifully steered through the remarkable modulations to a dignified and touching conclusion.

Second half Debussy consisted of three Images from Book 1, Reflets dans L’eau played with crystalline clarity and restraint with Hough giving a riveting display of controlled dexterity in the final Mouvement.

‘One of the most incendiary, elemental works ever written’ is how Stephen Hough describes Beethoven’s middle period F minor piano sonata and those words could equally apply to the performance that followed. Threatening rumbles were followed by thunderous outbursts only to die away in a galactic wind before the calming Andante was succeeded by a simmering finale that finally exploded with almost nuclear intensity. Absolutely superb.

Gareth Jones

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