Stephen Hough / Gabor Takács-Nagy / Tapiola Sinfonietta

Stephen Hough: Broken Branches

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Stephen Hough's reputation as one of the world's finest pianists precedes him, but his career as a composer has also become noteworthy. This 2011 release on BIS showcases Hough's approachable and imaginative works of the first decade of the 21st century, and the variety of his ideas and his quirky instrumental combinations make for fascinating listening. The major work of this album is The Loneliest Wilderness, a cello concerto Hough composed for Steven Isserlis, who performs it with the Tapiola Sinfonietta, under Gábor Takács. Here, Hough's melodic ingenuity and skill with an orchestra reveal his thinking away from the keyboard, and the long, sinuous lines for the cello and the accompaniment's spare but effective scoring contribute to a sustained elegiac mood. Also of major importance are Hough's brooding piano sonata in one movement, "Broken Branches," which he plays, and the poignant Herbstlieder on poems of Rilke, where he is joined by baritone Jacques Imbrailo. These works convey a seriousness of purpose and maturity of expression that give the album considerable emotional weight. Somewhat lighter in tone are the oddly scored trio for piccolo, contrabassoon, and piano, Was mit den Tränen geschieht; the delicate solo Un Piccolo Sonatina; and the disc's centerpiece, Bridgewater for bassoon and piano. In these pieces, Hough is joined by Michael Hasel on piccolo and Marion Reinhard on bassoon and contrabassoon, so the performances have a feeling of belonging together because of the unexpected unity of this ad hoc trio. The reproduction of the album is fine, though the subdued nature of much of the music works against brilliant or vibrant sounds.

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