Hough displays consummate artistry in recital for Friends of Chamber Music

By Lawrence Budmen

Stephen Hough performed a recital Wednesday night in Pinecrest for Friends of Chamber Music.

Stephen Hough performed a recital Monday night in Pinecrest for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Andrew Crowley

While few musicians can be described as personifying “the state of the art,” pianist Stephen Hough came close to that accolade on Monday night in a remarkable recital for Friends of Chamber Music at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. After more than four decades on the world’s concert stages, Hough’s artistry and pianistic facility are stronger and more assured than ever. His astutely chosen program contrasted British modernism with the romantic classics of Schumann and Chopin.

Hough opened the evening with four Bagatelles by Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971). Rawsthorne was an immensely gifted composer who penned a large body of scores for orchestra, voice, solo instruments and chorus. Both in his lifetime and in the present day, he has been eclipsed by the towering figures of Vaughan Williams, Britten and Walton. His Bagatelles, conceived in 1938, range from brutally fast to moody and reflective. Hough was fully equal to the formidable technical challenges of these vignettes, yet the austere lines of the Andante and solemn darkness of the final Lento brought out the composer’s sensitive side.

Schumann’s Kreisleriana is familiar recital fare but Hough’s performance was anything but routine. Few pianists open this volatile opus at such a fever pitch as Hough but, despite his daunting speed, every note was perfectly placed with extreme clarity.  Schumann’s contrasting impulsive and poetic inclinations (as personified by his fictional characters of Florestan and Eusibius) are everywhere present in this work and Hough conveyed the changing musical personalities vividly. With his exquisite touch, he could make the keyboard sing in almost vocal terms and shape phrases with heated romantic passion. 

For all of Hough’s power and thunder, his reading was never over the top. He gave Schumann’s melodies breadth and space and brought devilish verve to the more animated sections. Hough took the final macabre dance at an almost impossibly fierce clip. Still, his refined shading of tone and dynamics made this performance special, the softer sections imbued with a touch of the poet. In no small measure, Hough’s traversal was as true to Schumann’s dual fiery and sentimental visions as one can ever expect to hear.

The multi-talented Hough wears many hats as performer, pedagogue, author, newspaper columnist and composer. Hough’s own Partita is a five-movement, thirteen-minute tour de force. The Partita opens with an “Overture” that flows with Elgarian pomp and grandeur but also a more lyrical aura. The ensuing  “Capriccio” is witty and aptly capricious, requiring virtuosic technique. Two “Canción y Danza” movements suggest sultry rhythms and wild flings on the dance floor. The rapid, keyboard-spanning pulse of the concluding “Toccata ” may seem fierce and nearly impossible to articulate but Hough’s clarity and evenness were a model of precision and large-scale sonority.

The pianist concluded the evening with a Chopin group. Hough’s Chopin is thoroughly contemporary stylistically, eschewing heavy rubato and great variations of tempo. His interpretive predilections and feathery touch were ultimately winning. 

The dance rhythm of the Ballad No. 3 in A-flat was subtly inflected, his hands seeming to glide effortlessly across the keyboard. Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor emerged like a reverie. The familiar Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major was bereft of prettified lingering over detail, Hough’s delicate touch and forward pulse effectively made the case for a more objective approach. Widely terraced variations of volume and Hough’s accuracy at top speed in an exciting Scherzo No. 2 ended the program on an exciting note.

The small audience made up in enthusiasm for its numbers with a standing ovation and massive cheers. There was more than a little Chopin in Hough’s version of a danza by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou, a gentle bon-bon encore to end an evening of memorable music-making by a consummate artist.

Friends of Chamber Music presents pianist Benjamin Grosvenor playing Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Liszt’s Sonata, Albeniz’s Iberia, Book I and Ravel’s Jeaux d’eau and La Valse  8 p.m. March 31 at Coral Gables Congregational Church.  miamichambermusic.org

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Tue Mar 22, 2022
at 1:47 pm
No Comments