It’s been 11 weeks since BBC Radio 3 last broadcast a live concert, and the return of music-making to the channel is certainly a small step forward. The Wigmore Hall’s series of lunchtime recitals is running for the next four weeks; all will be broadcast on Radio 3 and video-streamed on the Wigmore’s website. Many of the hall’s regular artists are taking part, and another series of concerts, apparently, is already planned for September. The pianist Stephen Hough started this season off, and if it took a little while to get used to the images of him playing to an auditorium that was entirely deserted except for the hall’s director John Gilhooly on one side and Radio 3’s Andrew McGregor on the other, the intensity of Hough’s playing soon took over.
The original programme consisted of just two substantial works: Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne from JS Bach’s solo-violin Partita in D minor, and Schumann’s C major Fantasie. Both are ideal vehicles for Hough’s fastidious, perfectly controlled playing, and whatever the technical demands (which are considerable in both works), there was a sense of quiet understatement about his performances, with seriousness rather than show always being the watchword.
So the Schumann performance was perhaps a little more restrained than it might have been, especially in the opening movement, though Hough’s less than hell-for-leather tempo for the central march certainly paid dividends. Before it, though, the Chaconne had been perfectly pitched – genuinely searching in the more reflective variations, wonderfully sturdy and direct in the assertive ones. There was a short encore – Hough’s own arrangement of Gounod’s Ave Maria, based on Bach’s C major Prelude – not really necessary, but not entirely superfluous either.
• Available on BBC iPlayer/Sounds and Wigmore Hall Live Stream. The Wigmore Hall lunchtime series continues on Radio 3 until 26 June.