April 15, 2022

Schubert Piano Sonatas on Hyperion

Recording

Only with Richter have I been as convinced while listening that there was no other way of playing Schubert; and yet the two artists are so utterly different in temperament. Hough’s uncannily subtle timing, his sensitivity to texture and his mesmerising voice-leading are means to greater ends. It is his noble humility in the face of greatness and beauty that makes these among the most touching Schubert performances I have ever experienced. And experiences is what they are. Where many pianists seem fully aware of the destination from the outset, Hough invites us to embark with him on a magical mystery tour. — Gramophone

February 23, 2022

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1

Concert

Hough joined Gardiner in a powerful, intense performance of [Brahms'] titanic concerto, in what was – surprisingly – the first time they had worked together. The connection was clearly there – sideways glances, careful shaping and instinctive partnering with the [Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra]. Hough was thoughtful and subtle in his approach and ferocious at key moments, with Gardiner’s masterful sculpting of arching phrases helping to form a living and breathing performance [...] The serenity of Hough’s playing in the Adagio, with some of the solo piano passages painfully exquisite, combined affectionately with sympathetic lyricism in the orchestra and some particularly fine oboe and bassoon layering. The Hungarian romp of the Rondo was given pure freedom, flitting energetically between the delicate and the thunderous. — Bachtrack

February 20, 2022

Rough Ideas

Book

[Hough] is one of a very few gifted musicians who are capable of writing with clarity and wit [...] Part of what makes Mr. Hough’s writing on music so appealing is that he writes as a performer, as if somehow from the inside of the music. — Wall Street Journal

February 15, 2022

Tchaikovsky in Dallas

Concert

Hough turned in a stylish Tchaikovsky [First Concerto], combining technical prowess with a sophisticated musical personality. In the first movement, he played nobly and with direction. Declarative episodes were vigorous without being forced, and nimble passagework was dispatched with a feathery touch. Cadenzas sounded improvisatory, exploring mercurial shifts in mood. Hough brought great emotional warmth to the slow movement, and again displayed considerable freedom in his shaping of rhapsodic lines. The finale surged forth with fiery spirit. — Dallas Morning News

December 15, 2021

Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto

Concert

Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto [with the London Philharmonic and Karina Canellakis] brought out a bristling, vehement side to the soloist Stephen Hough that was compelling from the start. Underscoring the instability of the music, he pounced on phrases, finding sharp accents and, in the first movement cadenza, impetuous virtuosity. All this suddenly seemed like a distant memory in his noble, affecting adagio — the back and forth with the winds was hypnotic — until he snapped back into a climactic rondo delivered with serious bite. — The Times

November 15, 2021

Chopin Nocturnes on Hyperion

Recording

In a program note for his recording, Hough remarks that the Nocturnes are a “corpus of some of the finest operatic arias ever written.” The observation is hardly novel; Chopin’s love of bel-canto opera has been noted innumerable times. Yet I’m not sure if any pianist on record has fleshed out the link as thoroughly and as persuasively as Hough has. [...] He has thought at every turn about how a human voice would deliver the melody. In the process, he makes you forget that you’re listening to the operation of a complicated machine: the materiality of the instrument disappears [...]

There is no lack of great accounts of the Nocturnes in the catalogue: the robust elegance of the younger Arthur Rubinstein, the grandeur of Claudio Arrau, the fine-spun melancholy of Ivan Moravec, the vibrant lyricism of Maria João Pires, the unaffected poetry of the late Brazilian Nelson Freire. I have no hesitation about placing Hough in that company. On many moonlit nights, his version will be the one I reach for first. — The New Yorker (Alex Ross)

In answer to the reasonable question, 'Who, at this late date, could have something fresh and original to say in the Chopin Nocturnes'? this new Hyperion release persuasively answers, Stephen Hough does [...] During slightly less than two hours of listening, there are countless moments of heart–stopping beauty. Both its deeply considered, distinctive rethinking of canonic repetory and the sheer poetry of its execution make this a release that neither students of Chopin nor lovers of find piano-playing will want to miss. — The Gramophone

Be clear about one thing: this is not just another recording of Chopin’s Nocturnes. The roll-call of pianists who have recorded these much-loved pieces is long and prestigious, but in comparisons with a dozen of the best this new recording is immediately distinctive [...] Everything about it feels fresh-minted. Taking Chopin’s markings as his guide, Hough is swifter than almost anybody else, allowing the melodies to sing fluently as if they were arias from the composer’s favourite Bellini operas (Hough says as much in the booklet, though the point is already made unmistakably in his performances). The big gain is poetry. Played intimately, as Chopin would have done in small salons, each Nocturne shimmers as though touched by the most subtle of moonbeams [...] Nobody else creates quite this magic. — Financial Times (Top Classical Albums of 2021)

Like a great singer, Hough “breathes” Chopin’s Belliniesque melodies [...] his lightness of touch, perfectly controlled rubato, and “endless cantilena” has an improvisatory quality recalling the art of the divas Chopin heard in the theatre [This is] Hough at his most personal and best. — Sunday Times - Classical Album of the week

Hough presents the Nocturne in E flat major Op 55/2—in his words ‘a seamless robe of ecstasy’—with transcendental pianistic and musical sheen. Here are all of Chopin’s elegantly curvetting lines and the cantabile of a coloratura diva [...] Hough’s playing is of an enviable freedom and flexibility, his shot-silk pianism endlessly blossoming with colour and nuance [...] few pianists can approach him as a master of finesse, and he is presented in sumptuous sound. — International Piano

Hough’s playing is always insightful, but here he surpasses himself with performances that transport you to the Paris salons where Chopin presented his Nocturnes for the first time, delighting in their characters and indulging his improvisatory instincts. Under Hough's fingers, each Nocturne becomes a small story. He writes how opera was Chopin’s favourite art form and singers, not pianists, his musical heroes. Hough explores the vocal dimension in the Nocturnes with playing that reveals their long, singing lines – but he’s not afraid to explore their darker side either, his playing conveying their shifting moods like cloud shadows passing over a field. — Pianist magazine

To Hough, Chopin's Nocturnes are 'some of the finest operatic arias ever written.' He makes us believe it with the bel canto qualities of his playing—the lyrical melodies, the drama, the tenderness, the subtle changes of colour as though we're listening to different voices in each nocturne. Chopin's composed ornamentation is spun with effortless elegance; the rubato, the subtly shifting speeds, feel instinctive. — BBC Record Review

This complete set of Chopin nocturnes, set down in excellent sound in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall at the height of the pandemic, is a sure-fire winner, fit to be placed alongside recordings by giants of the past [...] Hough gives each one a good scrub to remove all the old varnish of deviant performing tradition, particularly spray-on romantic excess, and the results are revelatory [...] So even if you know the nocturnes (or think you do), and are well stocked with recordings, make room for this one. — The Mail on Sunday (5 stars)

Just about everything about Stephen Hough’s Chopin Nocturne cycle seems ideal. His gorgeous and well-recorded sonority seduces in intimate moments, rising to the music’s dramatic climaxes with emotional force yet never losing clarity or luminosity. He applies rubato with the utmost discretion, taste, and proportion, while largely underlining the composer’s harmonic surprises through shifts of tone color and chord balances. The way in which the pianist floats soft cantabile legato lines often gives the illusion of more sustain pedal than is actually employed [...] Hough consistently conveys a perfect balance of intelligence and instinct, as well as imagination without contrivance [...] Even in a catalog crowded with superb Chopin Nocturne cycles, Stephen Hough easily sets reference-worthy standards. — ClassicsToday (Jed Distler)

September 15, 2021

Schumann recital on Hyperion

Recording

With his transcendental technique and poetic imagination, Hough is the ideal interpreter of these works [...] he brings a masterly sense of drama, structure and freedom of expression to the Fantasie. Sunday Times

If there's a right time in life to record certain works, then Stephen Hough has chosen the right time to record these masterpieces. They're familiar works but in Hough's hands we hear them afresh. Mature, worldly, insightful, probing - his playing is all these and more [...] The closing bars [of the Arabeske] will take your breath away. Kreiserliana, which follows, is a masterclass in characterisation, Hough digging deep to bring us every precious moment [...] Hough never sacrifices the music for mere virtusosity, always finding the beauty and the poetry in every passing note. — Pianist Magazine

While Hough's approach [to Kreisleriana ] is supremely lyrical, he is especially adept at capturing [its] sudden, unsettling shifts of tone and mercurial mood swings [...] This vivid portrayal of madness could only be achieved by the utmost restraint and poise [...] Embarking on the great C major Fantasie, we are transported to a realm of almost ideal beauty. Hough's various rubato strategies seem infinitely calibrated, each aptly suited to a specific emotional circumstance, while the attention to voice-leading so prevalent in Kreisleriana is here redoubled to marvellous effect. — Gramophone

May 15, 2021

Vida Breve

Recording

[In his latest album Vida Breve] Elevation and luminosity, the art of sonority, overwhelming virtuosity, the fingers of Stephen Hough are pure gold. — Le Monde

May 10, 2021

Brahms Piano Concerto

Concert

This all-Brahms concert with Lionel Bringuier conducting the London Philharmonic orchestra had as its centerpiece the piano concerto no. 1 in d minor op.15 with Stephen Hough as soloist. As has been his hallmark over decades of concertizing, Hough has great poise at the keyboard, and in his hands the Brahms D Minor was given a performance that reminded us once again how important this piece is in the Romantic piano concerto repertoire. [...] Hough gave full measure to the score, emphasizing the grand sweep of the melodic lines while delivering a performance that was note-perfect and technically flawless.There was none of the bravado that other pianists are tempted to exhibit in the Maestoso. With Hough there were no throwaway moments; instead, each phrase was well thought-out, calibrated to fit within the larger arc of the musical narrative. Bringuier and the London players were deft collaborators, playing out in select moments but never in competition with the pianist. The LPO woodwinds blended beautifully here and in the other movements of the concerto.

The Adagio began with chorale-like strings presenting Brahms' trademark long phrases, with clarinets and oboes providing colorful commentary along the way. Hough played with a quiet majesty, drawing out the poignant quality of the melodic lines in the process turning this Adagio, which can sometimes seem a little anti-climactic following the imposing first movement, into its own special adventure. The concluding Rondo was taken at a more relaxed tempo than is often heard, which gave the movement a Schumannesque quality. The middle section was satisfyingly lyrical, which along with impressive strings in the brief fugal section, led to an impressive coda that ended the concerto in grand fashion. Indeed, "grand" fairly describes this entire performance of the concerto. — Bachtrack

May 5, 2021

Saint-Saëns’s Fourth Piano Concerto

Concert

There had definitely been no lack of glitter or fizz in the account of Saint-Saëns’s Fourth Piano Concerto that had opened the concert. Stephen Hough was the soloist, dazzling in the precision of his bravura flourishes and assertively muscular in the statements of the theme on which the first movement is built, as the concerto’s mood switches from the portentous to the frivolous and back again. The Guardian

Stephen Hough, another great CBSO favourite, was soloist in Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto no.4 [...] This is a quirky piece, veering eccentrically between moods and styles (incidentally, sometimes evoking the structure and procedures of the “Organ” Symphony, that great CBSO warhorse of yore), and Hough brought an almost jazz-style rumination to its opening, whilst displaying technical fireworks elsewhere, all beautifully coloured and speaking so clearly through the orchestral texture. Dynamics from both soloist and orchestra, were vividly shaded, and Gardner and his players collaborated with both smoothness of phrasing and pointedness of rhythm. — Slipped Disc

April 15, 2021

Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Concert

Stephen Hough [was] in terrific form in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I can’t imagine [the composer] played it with more understanding of the work’s mercurial meld of moods — mortal dread and limpid lyricism; virtuoso fireworks and emotional fervour — than Hough exhibited here. — The Times

March 15, 2021

Vida Breve

Recording

The awe-inspiring range and command of Stephen Hough's pianism may be a given, but here [in his latest album Vida Breve] he has rarely sounded more imperious [...] A hair-raising blend of mastery and imagination characterises the finale's whirling diablerie [in Chopin's Funeral March Sonata]. Two encores offer unforgettable solace [...] showcasing his liquid honey touch and caressing instinct for nuance and inflection. [...] A superb release — International Piano

February 25, 2021

Rough Ideas

Book

In his book Rough Ideas Hough writes that he sees [Brahms' 1st Piano] concerto as a “burst of pure, utter, natural genius”. Passion burnt strongly in this performance, from the moment the conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his [Bournemouth Symphony] players unleashed the cataclysmic opening, with fierce timpani and trenchant strings [...] Throughout, Hough and Gardiner, working together for the first time in their careers, shared Brahms’s vision of grandeur and tenderness, the music’s shifts from catastrophe to hope. Yet it was the central Adagio where everything felt utterly natural. Brahms wrote the words “Benedictus, qui venit, in nomine Domini” (Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord) in his manuscript, and the words seemed to hover over the beautiful hushed string playing. At the piano, Hough was all prayer and reverence, singing a hymn to love. — The Times

February 15, 2021

Vida Breve

Recording

[Hough in the booklet for his new album] describes Busoni's Bach transcription as 'a towering cathedral of sound', which indeed it is, and his playing impressively mirrors the immensity both of Bach's conception and of Busoni's tumultuous pianistic response. He brings the same monumental approach to the huge column-like pillars of sonority of Funérailles, following this with a super-virtuoso delivery of Liszt's Bagatelle sans tonalité [...] The idiom of his own 'Vida Breve' Sonata, with its cogent sweep and flawlessly-written fugato sections, is intriguingly difficult to pin-down. — BBC Music Magazine (5 stars)

[Hough's] “Vida Breve,” his remarkable new solo album offering arresting accounts of works that touch on death. The longest piece is Chopin’s “Funeral March” Sonata in B flat minor — a lucid, lyrical performance [...] The program opens with a stunning account of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin, thought by some to be Bach’s memorial piece to his first wife and played in Busoni’s colossal arrangement for piano, a “cathedral of sound,” as Hough describes it [...] The album’s title work is Hough’s own Piano Sonata No. 4, “Vida Breve,” referring to a life cut short, a sensation its composer conveys in an episodic, nine-minute work in one movement. The music shifts from lacy, harmonically wandering passages to stern proclamations with thick chords to stretches of industrious counterpoint, which build to a climax of teeming intensity. — New York Times

In this characteristically ingenious concept album [Hough] places his 2018 work [Sonata No 4 Vida Breve] as the climax to a sequence of masterpieces by other great pianist composers. At less than ten minutes, it never outstays its welcome with its tonal idiom and the flashes of bravura and tenderness that characterise his playing. Hough’s concept is death, starting with magisterial accounts of Busoni’s famous transcription of Bach’s Chaconne and continuing with Chopin’s Funeral March sonata and Liszt’s Funerailles. There’s a demonically witty glint in the last’s Bagatelle sans tonalité and in Busoni’s Chamber Fantasy on Carmen. His playing of the Chopin march’s second subject draws on his love of operatic bel canto and is seamlessly lyrical. There is something for every pianophile here. — The Sunday Times (Album of the Week)

[Hough new album] a fizzing exuberance [...] the pianism immaculate throughout [5 stars] — The Independent

January 15, 2021

Vida Breve

Recording

To call this a concept album would be to diminish its power and timeliness. It is both a meditation on the fragility of life and a Bergmanesque game of chess with Death, for which Hough has laid out his pieces and pawns in a masterstroke of programming … there is a poised and noble feel to Hough’s Chopin, subtly embellished as it is with effortless rubatos. Listen to the Trio section of the Scherzo for a masterclass in unselfconscious artistry. — Gramophone

Every Stephen Hough album is an event because, unlike most pianists, the virtuosity and poetry of his playing is only the starting point of his art, not its conclusion [VIDA BREVE 5 stars] — The Mail on Sunday

June 15, 2020

Bach-Busoni & Schumann

Recording

Few living pianists manage to combine open-hearted virtuosity with so tangible and unaffected a sense of an inner world beyond the notes: Hough is a fundamentally compassionate artist who never turns his back on his listeners even when the composer is in full inward retreat. In Hough’s reading [of the Schumann Fantasie] the tragic grandeur and underlying instability of that extraordinary opening movement threw its shadows across the whole length of the work. The instability underlying even the tenderest of moments (and no-one makes the centre of a chord melt like Hough does) created one of those occasions when the mood of the time finds its ideal musical expression. — The Arts Desk, June 2020

[The Bach-Busoni Chaconne] is a huge test of a pianist’s technique, but it’s also mysteriously poetic.Hough brought a huge pallete of colours to the piece, and a combination of precise delicacy and grandeur [making] all the detail shine out with a soft glow. — Daily Telegraph, June 2020

Hough is a profound thinker as well as a mercurial performer […] Even in the most grandiose passages of [the Bach-Busoni Chaconne] he found a dark nobility, rising to anger at the mid-point climax, but then conjuring a mood of sublime consolation at that magic moment when Bach turns the tonality from minor to major. His interpretation [of the Schumann Fantasie] was breathtaking in its bravery, the perfect example of why live performance if the lifeblood of music. — The Times, June 2020

May 15, 2020

Beethoven: The Piano Concertos

Recording

Wonderful, almost miraculous [...] There isn’t a colour, weight of attack or nuance of phrasing or rhythm that passes [Hough] by. Yet every effect, from the decorative flights in the early concertos to the imperial fortissimos of No 5, arrives and departs with natural ease. The most thrilling and moving performance? I’d nominate the kaleidoscopic No 3, blessed here with a particularly fiery Beethoven cadenza and a central largo so tenderly, thoughtfully stroked and probed that my tear ducts opened. No 4 is the runner-up: a total delight from the piano’s opening musings to the orchestra’s cute hesitation before the final chord. — The Times [5 stars], May 2020

A stunning recording of Beethoven's complete piano concertos. To these great works [Hough] makes the most companionable guide, his instinctive good taste saving him from histrionics, and his intuition allowing him to unlock moments of unexpected beauty. — The Independent, April 2020

February 20, 2020

Rough Ideas

Book

Given this polymath’s achievement in so many fields, it redounds all the more to his credit that his latest book, Rough Ideas, is so refreshingly free of pretension. Composed of morsel-sized, easily digestible musings, the collection is organized around the theme of music and offers plenty in the way of variation: advice for amateurs, meditations on music history, personal vignettes, and detours into art, literature, religion, and more. A fascinating look into the mind of a real talent—and an eminently approachable one, which is all the more uncommon. — The New Criterion, Februrary 2020

February 15, 2020

Brahms: The Final Piano Pieces

Recording

This riveting and beautifully recorded release [of Brahms' Final Piano Pieces is] enhanced by Hough's insightful and masterly control of keyboard texture [...] I was mesmerised by the veiled quality of sound and almost timeless approach to rubato that characterises his interpretations of the more introverted pieces [...] Most compelling of all, perhaps, is Hough's searingly-intense and dramatic interpretation of the E flat Intermezzo op 118 no 6. There are undoubtedly many worthy recordings of this repertoire in the current catalogue, but Hough has siomething special to say about the music. — [5 stars] BBC Music Magazine, Februrary 2020

This wonderful new CD from Stephen Hough [of Brahms' Final Piano Pieces, who] understands that a rich ripe sound is vital, but so is clarity. Being clear allows him to shine a light on little details – important because these pieces don’t just summon up feelings, they take them on a journey of transformation. Hurt becomes resignation, anger turns into panic. Hough is super-aware of these changes of feeling, and uses the tiniest inflections – a pulling-back of tempo here, a stress on a normally unnoticed inner part there – to make them real. — Daily Telegraph, Februrary 2020