Stephen Hough – review

Brangwyn Hall, Swansea

Stephen Hough seems to have reached a plateau where his colossal keyboard mastery is beyond doubt. The challenge lies now in pushing boundaries for himself and his audience. This Swansea festival recital launched a programme that will form the basis of his solo work well into 2013, boldly putting, or pitting, his own new Second Sonata against the Third Sonata of Brahms. These two heavyweight works came either side of the interval.

By way of context for his own sonata, subtitled notturno luminoso, Hough opened with a pair of Chopin Nocturnes, Op 27, Nos 1 & 2. His delivery was consciously understated, veiled and atmospheric, with Chopin's explosion of emotion gauged so as to reveal its shocking force. In retrospect, the Chopin had a very real connection with Hough's own composition, which evoked the clash and clamour of a city night, when harsh neon contrasts with the elusive purity of moonlight or the dark. On one level, his tripartite sonata might be heard as a primal scream from an artist on an endless multi-date tour, when night offers less respite than tortured unrest. Hough, who was recently named one of 20 living polymaths, captures these Liszt-like evocations with highly wrought music. The brilliant, toccata-like opening might have been Messiaen; Scriabin, Webern and Rachmaninov were also audible, as was the jazz of the American composers. His fist-pounding at the extremes of the piano was shocking, yet, at its most virtuosic and sparse, the music had a vibrant presence.

After this, Hough played Schumann's Carnaval as though for relaxation, but his weighting of each note, from gossamer lightness to muscular force, was mesmeric.

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Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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