Stephen Hough – one of my favourite pianists – still isn’t a household name, yet reviews for his concerts and discs continue to rake in the best reviews around. If you don’t know him yet, rush to iTunes or YouTube and start listening now!
I lost my classical concert virginity last night at the Royal Festival Hall. It was Stephen Hough’s Liszt recital with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Iván Fischer. I’m still reeling. As soon as Stephen started playing – it was the Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat – my jaw dropped (actually). I was transfixed, bewitched, spellbound. I’m told that Stephen took more risks with the piece than other performers and played it faster than usual. That figures. At some points, his hands were a pale whirring blur. As his fingers crashed down in elaborate positions all over the keys, my stunned wonder increased. Why on earth hadn’t I been to a classical music concert before?
Everyone seemed to be in agreement. Erica Jeal’s 5-star review in The Guardian:
The orchestra sounded bright and forward. Still, in Liszt’s Concerto No 1 it could barely compete with Stephen Hough’s piano. Hough’s performance was tremendous, balancing muscle with intelligence, stamina with wit. Showy flourishes were left hanging like questions or dispatched with insouciance; the finale was carried by mounting exhilaration. Hough wound down with Liszt’s Andantino, a brief and beautifully introspective encore.
And Richard Fairman in the FT (a star less, but not for Hough):
The nod to Liszt’s bicentenary came with the Piano Concerto No 1, which will doubtless be heard a lot this year. English pianist Stephen Hough joined the Hungarian orchestra in a performance that matched barnstorming zeal with passages of unusual delicacy. Lucky the soloist who is announced with an orchestral introduction of such proud unanimity as Fischer provided, but Hough repaid the compliment with playing of inimitable class. It is unlikely the concerto will race to a more exciting conclusion in 2011 than it did here.