Stephen Hough: French Album (French Piano Music) (Stephen Hough) (Hyperion: CDA67890)
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Exquis! Stephen Hough presents an enchanting programme of French music, played with the filigree perfection and total command of the music's expressive world that make him one of the most admired pianists of today. In typical Houghian style this recital is full of surprises and lesser-known gems from the repertoire, as well as works by the masters Faure, Ravel, Debussy and Poulenc. A particular delight is Hough's own arrangement of the Massenet song Crepuscule, a ravishing exercise in creative yet faithful transcription. This release is both a tribute to the lyric genius which flowered in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France, and a glimpse into the musical mind of a great pianist.
"A superlative performance." Performance *** Recording ****----BBC Music Magazine, Oct'12
"Even by Hough standards the whole enterprise is a tour de force and easily the most satisfying disc of piano music I ve encountered so far this year." IRR OUTSTANDING--IRR, Sept'12
Stephen Hough describes this album as a sort of musical dessert trolley . Come, come. Too modest. There may be generous helpings of bonbons and souffles but it all amounts to a great substantial gourmet feast of masterly pianism. GRAMOPHONE CHOICE --Gramophone Awards issue '12
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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.
Cortot was Swiss, Liszt was a Hungarian, the cover image on the CD is an English painting of a Saxon retreat and Hough is British born. Yet despite the geographic plurality of this 'French' album, the whole thing is united by a notably Gallic sense of class and swagger. Hough's Bach has breathless lines and the fresh attack of improvisation. More surprising is the fluid transition into a stream of works by Fauré. Sensual, warm, Hough has programmed a beautiful sequence of keys leading to ever more capricious harmonic terrain. Ravel's Alborada del gracioso finally cuts through, adding a dash of lemon juice.
After such flashy precision, Hough gives a caring touch to miniatures by Massenet, Chabrier and Poulenc. Water-droplet placement of bass notes, an erotic blooms in the melody line and seamless cantabile playing make for a potent heart to the disc. Alkan's La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer then undercuts their warmth with an eerie frisson.
Hough's own arrangement of the 'Pizzicati' from Delibes' Sylvia provides a deft balance of the racy and the refined, before Liszt's muscular 'Fantasie brillante' takes over. Hough describes the disc as 'a sort of musical dessert trolley'. There's enough sugar to sate the sweetest tooth, but a lot more besides.
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