Stephen Hough

A Mozart Album

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This 2008 Hyperion disc called A Mozart Album programmed and performed by English pianist Stephen Hough is a model recital. The disc starts with pure Mozart, the Fantasia in C minor, K. 475, and the Sonata in B flat major K. 333, then moves to not so pure Mozart, a Fantasia in C minor, K. 396, begun by Mozart but finished after his death by Maximillian Stadler. After that, there are three Mozartian virtuoso pastiches, Johann Baptist Cramer's Hommage à Mozart and Ignaz Friedman's Menuetto in D major from the Divertimento for strings and horns, K. 334, plus Hough's own Three Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc): the Menuet, K. 1; Klavierstücke, K. 333; and Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling, K. 596. And the disc closes with a super virtuoso expansion by Ferruccio Busoni of a virtuoso work by Franz Liszt called Fantasia on Two Themes from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Each piece has its own appeal, but taken together, the program is ideally balanced between poise and propulsion, charm and vivacity, and musicality and virtuosity.

Hough, of course, is a stupendous pianist with a bravura technique, an enormous tone, and a sensitive touch. But would one have expected him to be a stupendous Mozart pianist? Wouldn't his power and passionate perforce have overwhelmed the elegant and graceful music of the Austrian composer? In the event, no, though Hough does stack the deck in his favor. His pure Mozart is bigger, tougher Mozart, and Hough plays it with as much force as necessary but without overloading it. Just as fine are his Mozartian pastiches with their dancing sense of tempo and slightly secco touch. But best of all is his performance of Busoni's version of Liszt's Figaro Fantasia. Here Hough can turn it loose, ramping up the muscle and juicing up the virtuosity until the music fairly combusts at the climax. And yet, such is Hough's innate sense of taste that his performance never oversteps into empty bombast. Captured in vibrantly present digital sound, A Mozart Album demands to be heard by anyone who loves great piano playing.

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