Stephen Hough reviewed in the West Australian
Neville Cohn, The West Australian
Think of a flower, say a partially opened rosebud. Imagine an intensely bright shaft of light projected upwards through the flower from its base. We will see the contours of petals which are yet to unfurl. Now, the flower has not changed but, because of the shaft of light, our understanding of it is enhanced.
So it was with the playing of pianist Stephen Hough in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Can there be a more frequently heard sonata in the repertoire? Yet there was there was nothing in the least humdrum about his performance. Here, Hough was the equivalent of that shaft of light, enabling the listener, through his profound understanding of music, to gain a greater understanding of the music. The old became new and satisfying and it is this that places this musician in a very special category of excellence.
There was fascinating fare in this five-sonata compilation, not least Hough’s own, subtitled “broken branches”, which consists of 15 finely crafted, fascinating fragments, each with a distinct character, some making obeisance to Janacek others to Hough’s own deeply held beliefs as a Catholic.
There are not many pianists who have the intellectual capacity and flawless command of the keyboard to essay any of Scriabin’s sonatas with authority.
But Hough could not be faulted in the 4th and 5th sonatas by the eccentric Russian genius. Music of this complexity can easily collapse in a shapeless ruin at the hands of any other than the most accomplished and insightful of interpreters. In Hough’s hands, these were revelatory interpretations which, in turn, bristled with massive grandeur or caressed the ear with arabesques as intricately beautiful as finest Brussels lace.
Hough’s command of the piano is peerless. Even when expounding episodes of legendary difficulty as in Liszt’s vast Sonata in B minor there was not a hint of stress or tiredness. Indeed, throughout the course of this opus, mind, heart and muscle were in perfect accord, the playing as wondrously fresh, insightful and invigorating as anything offered earlier in the recital.