Stephen Hough

Chopin: Late Masterpieces

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Schumann, one of history's great music critics, once famously opened his review of Chopin's early but not especially characteristic variations for piano and orchestra on the aria "Là ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni with the deathless phrase: "Hats off, gentlemen: a genius!" Upon hearing Stephen Hough's 2009 recording of Chopin's late and characteristic works, one is tempted to echo Schumann: "Hats off, folks: a master!" That is because Stephen Hough is a master, a pianist of maximum virtuosity, supreme sensitivity, and consummate taste, with a richly nuanced, utterly distinctive tone. Everything about this release is superlative, from the program through the performances to the sound, the notes, and even the packaging. Hough's selections are brilliantly arranged and artfully executed. He opens with a beguiling account of the Barcarolle, moves through a set of melancholy Mazurkas to a deeply poetic reading of the Polonaise-Fantasy, then from a sensual pair of Nocturnes to an epic take on the B minor Sonata, to close with a transcendently beautiful performance of the Berceuse. Hyperion's digital sound is luminous, Hough's notes are marvelous, and the reproduction of Rothko's Untitled (1953-1954) is vibrant. Anyone who loves Chopin owes it to themselves to hear this disc.

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