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Picture-painting by music

Newbury Spring Festival Review: Stephen Hough

Trish Lee



01635 886663

credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke

“CONTRAST and opposition”, Stephen Hough’s own words to describe the music chosen for his Spring Festival recital.
Not only is he a world-class pianist, he has also had articles published by The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian and The Independent. His recordings have won eight Gramophone Awards, he has performed in the world’s most famous concerts halls and, being a true 21st-century man, his performance of the Liszt Sonata was released for iPad by Touch Press in 2013. The piece, recorded by multiple cameras, allows us to view the performance from all angles and to call up the score at the touch of a button. The Economist hails Hough as one of 20 living polymaths, he has performed at the BBC Proms no fewer than 25 times and, to cap it all, he was made a CBE in the 2014 New Year’s Honours.

Sporting one of his trademark Mandarin-style jackets, he sat at the piano, closed his eyes and drew us gently into the world of ‘picture-painting-by-music’ with Debussy’s beautiful Clair de Lune. The auditorium fell immediately silent and so entranced were we by his mastery, you might have been forgiven for thinking he was playing to an empty hall, until the applause rang through the rafters after the final chord. Images (Series 2) followed and the sound of Debussy’s beautiful dissonance washed over us before Hough wowed us with the flashy Poissons d’or. Fast and furious, I now know where Scott Bradley found his inspiration for some of the fabulous Tom and Jerry cartoon incidental music.

In total contrast, Schumann’s Fantasia in C major closed the first-half and Hough showed us why he is in demand the world over. Hinted shades of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata gave us a taste of things to come in the second-half and we hurriedly ate our ice creams, not wanting to miss a thing. Images (Series 1) began with Reflets dans l’eau, one of my favourites and Debussy’s pianistic genius, once again, gave us the chance to close our eyes in order to ‘see’ the shimmering colours in the music. The third movement (Mouvement) allowed Hough to demonstrate his phenomenal technique in this relentless toccata-like piece. Beethoven’s Opus 57 Appassionata sonata closed the programme; a total change of mood and a demonstration of Hough’s remarkable ability to interpret the different composers’ musically diverse styles.

I tweeted Stephen to tell him how much I had enjoyed his recital. He tweeted back almost straight away. Wow, a 21st- century polymath – and a really nice guy.


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