HOUGH'S ENGLISH PIANO ALBUM
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
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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
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 exemplaryas it is on their fine set of all of Saint-Saëns' works for piano and orchestra with Hough (REVIEW).
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)