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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 3, No. 1 September 1997

Stephen Hough: The Piano Album 2
Virgin Classics VC 7593042 (EMI)

English pianist Stephen Hough won the 1983 Naumburg Competition and burst onto the recording scene with the Hummel concertos in 1987. The thirty-six year old's star has been on the rise ever since. Back in 1991, Hough, who now records exclusively with Hyperion, put out two compilations - called "The Piano Album 1" and "The Piano Album 2" - for Virgin Classics which stand as early monuments to his remarkable artistry. "The Piano Album 2" is a collection of seldom heard music of rare quality spanning two centuries from Czerny to Lowell Liebermann. Czerny's Variations brillantes op. 14 is a delightful discovery, suggesting that this Austrian composer is long overdue for critical re-evaluation. His musical reputation has suffered from his hundreds of deadly-dull piano studies for students but the Variations brillantes are brilliant indeed. Czerny's pupil Franz Liszt would have revelled in their digital acrobatics; Schumann's 'Abegg' Variations, opus 1 certainly owes something to Czerny's op. 14, and I imagine Chopin knew Op. 14 before he composed his 'La ci darem' Variations, opus 2.

American composer Lowell Liebermann is popping up everywhere these days. On "The Piano Album 2" Hough plays Liebermann's Gargoyles, a nine-minute piece in four movements premiered at New York's Lincoln Center in 1989, which continues the technical innovations of Ravel and Prokofiev. Coincidentally, Hyperion has just released Stephen Hough's recording of Liebermann's two piano concertos, the second of which will be performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Montreal Symphony on May 19 & 20, 1998.

The rest of this album is full of seductive, soulful, joyous treasures including Levitzki's Enchanted Nymph, Bizet/Godowsky's Adagietto, Tausig's Ungarische Zigeunerweisen, Musical Snuffboxes by Rebikov and Liadov, Moszkowski's Valse Mignonne, Ravina's Etude and the Bach/Saint-Saëns' Bourrée. Stephen Hough is a musician of genius who plays with seductive charm and silk-gloved fingers of steel. He is a talented arranger as well. His arresting paraphrases of Richard Rogers' March of the Siamese Children, Roger Quilter's Weep you no more and Amy Woodforde-Finden's Till I wake are in the grand tradition of Liszt, Tausig and Godowski.

The excellent piano sound ranges from crystalline limpidity in the treble to orchestra-size sonority in the bass and middle registers. Stephen Hough's sensitive, superlative musicianship makes his disc sixty-four minutes of pure piano delight. If you don't have the recording, beg, borrow or steal it today. Stephen Ch'in

(c) La Scena Musicale