“In the use of words like sensational, extraordinary, phenomenal, etc., critics have to be sparing, at risk of their credibility. But these adjectives are all appropriate to this new Chopin recital by Stephen Hough, which vaults him to the top rung in this repertoire, right next to Rubinstein”
“This is astonishing piano playing; Chopin interpretation that, at its best, fully measuring up to the greatness of these pieces. Stephen Hough's accounts offer plenty of refreshment to spirit and senses.
The distribution is interesting, chronological but alternating one of each, which may not make a recital to consume at one go, but helps to point up their diversity and individual character, as well as Chopin's mastery of large forms. Hough is unfailingly thoughtful; there isn't a note that hasn't been cared for. Just a few of them (Third Ballade, for example) are picked out of the texture and strung together for our delectation in a way that might strike you as otiose if you're in a sober-sides kind of mood. The surfaces of his presentations are very 'worked', more indicative of application, maybe, than of organic growth. But this isn't superficial playing – the performances catch fire.
He inclines to the accepted view that Chopin's large forms have a 'plot' that culminates in a tumult or a whirlwind of activity. The tempest in the coda of the Fourth Ballade might have been a mite less furious, to let the ear have more time to register what's going on. The closing pages of No 1, on the other hand, have an exemplary finish and allure. Most distinguished of the Ballades is No 2, where Hough perceives the invasion of one kind of music by another in all its subtlety and lays out a spellbinding sevenminute drama.
He has interesting points to make in the Scherzos, too. Where many a player is content to let recurring sections and paragraphs register simply as the music we heard before, with him they sound different in some degree, affected by what's come in between. Hough is always doing something, though sometimes you might wish he were doing less. This is an issue out of the ordinary; welcome, too, for being handsomely recorded and produced.”