Stephen Hough's French Album is a great collection that follows the mix-and-match model of a number of earlier releases, such as the Spanish Album. We get a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar - from Debussy's Clair de Lune and Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso to Faure, Poulenc, Alkan, Hough's own transcriptions of pieces by Delibes and Massenet, Cortot transcriptions, a Liszt opera paraphrase and plenty of other delectable pieces. Hough's playing is impressive, as we have come to expect, not least in the amazing sense of light and shade he finds in Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso. The Faure pieces are a model of expression and restraint, and the Massenet/Hough features some of the most beautifully delicate piano playing you're ever likely to encounter. Hough is a true master of colour, and his beautifully shaded and graded dynamics are to die for.
The main draw of the album is the brilliant programming - nobody is better than Hough at bringing together various pieces around a theme and moulding them into a cogent album that's a delight from beginning to end. Compared to the earlier Spanish Album, this collection has arguably a little less variety - despite the occasional brilliant showpiece, it is very much dominated by a nocturnal mood, but in Hough's hands it makes for great listening any time. Another success by one of the most interesting pianists of our times.