Stephen Hough reviewed in the Sunday Herald Sun

Catherine Lambert, Sunday Herald Sun
Sunday 2/10/2011

There are few pianists in the world more accomplished than England’s Stephen Hough. And his recital as part of a Musica Viva tour this week was breathtaking in many ways.

As a performer, he is never showy, effusive or dramatic. He could best be described as typically English – modest, restrained, refined. His character is as evident as his playing.

As he opens the recital of Strange Sonatas, he opens a new window on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and a delicate breeze enters Melbourne Recital Centre. The adagio movement is played with exquisite tenderness and sensitivity to tell a story all of its own and is enhanced during the further two movements.

He plays one of his own compositions next, Broken Branches, which takes on a variety of forms, constructed of 16 sections. It is both fragile and exuberant.

That vivacity is explored further in two Scriabin sonatas where the passion is all the more exciting when performed with his customary restraint. Hough shows extraordinary agility and precision in his playing, highlighted particularly in the last piece, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. The allegro energico arrives like a wild torrent in all its speed and intricacy. In this, Liszt’s crowning piano work, Hough is able to display the full extent of his virtuosity without ever collapsing into ostentation for the sake of it.

It is grandiose, traverses the keys in detail and is full of contradictions. This is a wonderfully diverse program and Hough will be long remembered for his charming restraint and profound relationship with the piano. The purpose for the solitary suitcase sharing his stage is not clear, but this is not a visual experience, it is one of the heart.

Ending with Chopin’s Nocturne op 9 no. 3 was a perfect encore for a richly gratified audience.

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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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