Although he has had several such discs cobbled together for him by various record companies, pianist Stephen Hough hasn't had a proper recital disc since 1988, when the now-defunct MusicMasters label released a well-received collection entitled My Favorite Things. Mostly he has centered his attention upon single composer albums, recording lots of Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Brahms, and others, mainly for Hyperion. Hyperion's Stephen Hough in recital represents a significant departure from that model, being a carefully chosen potpourri of generally familiar literature recorded at Henry Wood Hall in London over two dates in July 2008. It serves to reacquaint us with what a fine pianist Hough is, but also introduce us to how well he can construct a concert program, as all of these things -- ranging from Beethoven to Debussy and beyond -- tend to interconnect; the opening of Chopin's Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64/2, almost seems to comment on the Weber Aufforderung zum Tanz that precedes it. Hyperion's recording is very present and lifelike and concentrates on the piano's sound more so than on the hall Hough is playing in; a perfect balance. The Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor -- a work notably as chaotic and unkempt on the printed page as Beethoven himself in late portraits -- gets an orderly scrubbing, turns on distinct corners and yields consistent notions of tempo and dynamics under Hough's able hands. The Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 trembles, terrifies, and thunders with authority, and Hough clearly appreciates the demonic power of this piece as he tells its story most effectively with an excellent balance of drama and patient restraint. Hough's stylish and atmospheric recasting of a traditional tune, Matilda's Waltz, brings the program to an elegant close.
Hyperion has covered a wide swath of the piano literature in high-quality recordings, and Hough has been a major co-conspirator in achieving that goal. One appreciates the decision to permit Hough to step back from concerns relating to literature and to simply show us what he's got. It is a considerable and mature talent, one that has moved a long way forward from My Favorite Things in terms of depth and character, but has not lost any of the brilliance and enthusiasm experienced in that first encounter.