Stephen Hough delivers illuminating artistry for Friends of Chamber Music

By Dorothy Hindman

Stephen Hough performed Tuesday night in Coral Gables for Friends of Chamber Music.

Stephen Hough performed Tuesday night in Coral Gables for Friends of Chamber Music.

You don’t have to know anything about classical music to have a deeply moving experience when your guide is British pianist Stephen Hough.  One of the top living pianists, Hough treated an enthusiastic audience at Coral Gables Congregational Church to illuminating interpretations of music by Claude Debussy and Frédéric Chopin on the Friends of Chamber Music series Tuesday night.

Trim and stylishly dressed in black, Hough delivered a meaty palate of interconnected themes and orchestral colors that he called “Polish sausage and French bread.”

Refreshingly guileless and straightforward, Hough’s technical command never left a question of what is primary and secondary, and he often relegates treacherously difficult passages into the background to serve the larger picture.  This was immediately evident in the exquisitely balanced voicing in Claude Debussy’s La plus que lente, his simmering left hand melting into fused sound underneath a languorous melody.

Similar substance over flash in “Pagodes” from Debussy’s Estampes privileged the tenor line over virtuosic flutters above it. Hough’s unusual depth of rich accompanimental color in “Jardins sous la pluie,” kept the defining melody on a razor’s edge above the turbulent texture.

Hough has an uncanny ability to unite seemingly disconnected musical ideas, as in his masterful treatment of the dreamy melodies and rhythmic agitatos in “La soireédans Granade.”

This same ability was most evident in Chopin’s four Ballades.  These are often interpreted as series of contrasting sections, but Hough’s evolving tempi and dynamics and his focus on interior lines unified the Ballades into global statements of powerful emotion drawing the audience  compellingly through all four works’ demanding trajectories.

Hough truly seemed to experience the spiraling passion of the Ballades.  From the opening chorale of the Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38, the tightrope excitement of his central sections were only surpassed by the inevitable juxtaposition of the simple chorale’s return.

His liberal tempi in the opening octaves of the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 stretched time for a pensive, poetic opening, before stormier passages took over. In the sunny, short Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47 Hough’s sparkling fingerwork expressed the brightest tones of the evening.

His Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 began with rounded, subdued voicing and the melting accompaniment marking the Debussy, while a hauntingly orchestral second theme defied the mechanics of the piano. Each grander statement of the theme surged inevitably forward, until quiet chords suspended the time and place before the passionate cascades of the ending.

Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite, six pieces evoking childhood, wrapped up the program. Hough’s interpretations freshening even the most familiar tunes.  Highlights included masterful swirling arpeggios in “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum”, an astonishingly clear sub-bass melody on “Jimbo’s Lullaby,” and alternation of crisp versus pedal-blended repeated notes to delineate segments in “Serenade of the Doll.”  The best of these was Hough’s outstanding “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” a humorously spirited, baritone-throated interpretation that lived in the lower register, bringing excitingly original colors to the old favorite.

Hough’s opening trill of L’isle joyeux underpinned and launched everything that followed, expanding outward into sculpted lines, bright and mellow, high and low,transporting the listener through a dreamscape until climactic joyful chords marked the arrival, finally, from the questing lines.

Four generous encores left everyone satiated.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Stephen Hough delivers illuminating artistry for Friends of Chamber Music”

  1. Posted Feb 25, 2015 at 4:25 pm by Jessica Ginsbeg

    It was a glorious and illuminating recital.

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Wed Feb 25, 2015
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