Stephen Hough / Osmo Vänskä / Minnesota Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos; Concert Fantasia

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Listeners who are sick of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, its bombastic opening, its pretentious ending, and all its pointless filigree in between, should hear this recording of that concerto plus the composer's other works for piano and orchestra by English pianist Stephen Hough, because they will be totally, completely, and utterly blown away. It's not just because Hough nails the notes technically or plumbs the depths interpretively, although he does both with a mastery and a dedication that rival Richter. Hough appears to believe whole-heartedly that Tchaikovsky's three piano concertos and his Concert Fantasia are truly great works, and his belief infuses his performances with the kind of commitment they rarely receive. Too many pianists seem content to ride Tchaikovsky's stupendously difficult piano concertos to technical glory without considering that they may have musical worth as well. Hough, however, goes deep into the scores and finds more passages of awestruck beauty, emotional intensity, and sheer inspiration than any pianist since Richter. With super-charged accompaniments by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra and in-your-face sound by Hyperion, this is the two-disc set of Tchaikovsky's concertos to get if you're getting only one. Hough's transcriptions of Tchaikovsky's songs, Solitude and None But the Lonely Heart, that close the first disc, are exceedingly lovely. The two transcriptions for violin, cello, and piano of the central movement of the Second Concerto that close the second disc, the first by Siloti and the second by Hough, are almost unbearably intimate.

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