RAWSTHORNE: Bagatelles.  REYNOLDS:  Two Poems in Homage to Delius.  Two Poems in Homage to FaurÈ.  HOUGH: Valse Enigmatique Nos. 1 and 2.  ELGAR:  In Smyrna.  BANTOCK:  Song to the Seals (arr. Hough).  BOWEN:  Reverie d'Amour, Op. 20 No. 2.  Serious Dance, Op. 51 No. 2. The Way to Polden (an ambling tune), Op. 76.  BRIDGE:  The Dew Fairy.  Heart's Ease.  LEIGHTON:  Six Studies (Study-Variations) Op. 56.
Stephen Hough, pianist
HYPERION 67267 (F) (DDD) TT: 73 min.

PADEREWSKI:  Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 17.  Polish Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19.
Ian Hobson, pianist/Sinfonia Varsovia; Jerzy Maksymiuk, cond.
ZEPHYR Z12202 (F) (DDD) TT:  58:13

Two fine CDs by two of today's leading pianists. Stephen Hough first attracted collectors' attention with his brilliant 1986 Chandos performance of two piano concertos of Hummel (8507). Since that time he has made many recordings including concertos of Brahms, Liebermann, Mendelssohn, Sauer and Scharwenka as well as solo albums of varied repertory focusing primarily on relatively unknown music. Here Hough devotes his talents to a collection of music by fellow Britishers. Doubtless many of these here receive their premiere recordings although this is not stated. The program opens with Alan Rawsthorne's brief Four Bagatelles, the first and third of which are busy virtuoso showpieces, the second a pleasant allegretto, the last a poignant Lento. Most of what follows could be considered "salon music," delectable miniatures including Hough's own charming Valse Enigmatique (there are two of them). Unquestionably the major work on this CD is Six Studies by Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988). This 17-minute set of "Study Variations," has occasional suggestions of Prokofiev.  Composed in 1969, it's a challenging work for the instrument. Hough's program notes describe the third study as "repeated notes collide and rise inexorably in thickening clusters to a fist-shaking climax of defiant intensity." But it is finale, Presto con bravura - precipitosa, il pi˜ presto possibile al fine, with its traces of Prokofiev at his most diabolical, that truly puts the pianist through his paces.

This is a very special program of enormous interest.  Needless to say, Hough's performances are bravura when necessary yet missing none of the delicacy of the quieter pieces. Hyperion's piano sound is exemplary—as it is on their fine set of all of Saint-Saëns' works for piano and orchestra with Hough (REVIEW).

Ian Hobson is another English pianist equally at home in a wide repertory including contemporary concertos by Henry Holden Huss and Kevin Oldham, piano music of Benjamin Lee, Godowsky Schubert and Chopin transcriptions, Beethoven sonatas, Mozart concertos and many works of contemporary composers written for him. Over the years he has made many recordings for Arabesque and other labels. In 1998 Hobson formed his own record company, Zephyr.  Their catalog already includes piano concertos of Moscheles, the Schubert-Godowsky piano transcriptions and David Johnson's Twleve Preludes and Fugues for Piano

Paderewski's old-fashioned piano concerto dates from 1888.  It had its premiere in 1890 with Annette Essipova who at the time was married to Theodor Leschetizky (who was Paderewski's teacher) with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. The first recording was by Puerto Rican pianist Jesus Maria Sanroma in 1939 with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston 'Pops" Orchestra, a performance available on Pearl.  In 1970 Fiedler recorded it again, this time with Earl Wild as soloist with the London Symphony, long available on RCA LP, finally issued on CD (Élan 82266)—but minus its disk companion, the Polish Fantasy, Op. 19.  Instead we have a welcome reissue of Wild's definitive 1969 recording of Scharwenka's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, previously unissued on CD. Hobson and Wild are equally dazzling in this concerto, although Wild's is a touch more showy as in a few places he augments what the composer wrote. Hobson's performances are first-class, his majestic Polish Fantasy a most welcome addition to the CD catalog. Sinfonia Varsovia provides splendid support under Jerzy Maksymiuk's direction and the recorded sound is fine. This was recorded in Warsaw in 1995 —strange that it took so long to issue. The disk would be even more attractive if Hobson had included some of Paderewski's solo works - the CD has less than an hour's playing time.

R.E.B. (October 2002)