Festival Music

Stephen Hough

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Michael Tumelty

five stars

I DIDN’T stop thinking for one minute yesterday on the way back to Glasgow from Stephen Hough’s extraordinary recital at the Queen’s Hall. Indeed, so preoccupied was I with sorting out what we had just heard that I can’t actually remember the journey.

I don’t know how long it is since Hough graced the boards in this neck of the woods, but it’s too long. The man is an intellectual and physical pianistic powerhouse. He raises more issues and questions per piece than almost any other pianist I know. He flings out challenges to preconceptions. And he educates with every phrase.

Yesterday’s major point of enlightenment (and challenge) came in a gloriously decisive, dramatic and tender account of Schubert’s D784 A minor Sonata. I could not believe the pluralistic insights that flowed from Hough’s mind and fingers throughout the piece. Was it bleak? Was it dramatic? Was it tenderly lyrical? Was it emotionally elusive? Was it explosive? Was it subtle? It was all of these things and more in Hough’s mesmerising probe into the heart and soul of the sonata. What we were hearing, in effect, was a masterclass in musical analysis and perception.

And on it rolled, through Hough’s sonorous account of Franck’s Prelude, Choral and Fugue, which suddenly had wings instead of lead in its boots, through Hough’s own sonata, Trinitas, whose music rose above its serial-technique methods of construction, and a delicious concoction from Liszt’s Walses Oubliees and Transcendental Studies. Oh, and that genius Hough has a wicked sense of humour, on full display as he paraded “Matilda’s Rumba” as an encore: “the most vulgar piece I’ve ever written,” he quipped later.