British-born pianist Stephen Hough generally does not disappoint in terms of programming. His latest CD, A Mozart Album, combines two fantasias (K. 396/385f and 475) and one sonata (K. 333) with pieces derived from Mozart by later composers, including himself. Hough's Mozart is exemplary, with the Fantasias approached with a free sense of tempo and a careful attention to the dynamic contrasts and articulations in the score. Hough has a precision touch and smashes the idea that the often reduced textures in Mozart equate with preciosity. Yes, there are crystalline soft passages, delicate enough to crack if mishandled, but there are also flights of fancy and operatic excesses. The pendant piece is the Liszt-Busoni fantasia on themes from Marriage of Figaro, in which Hough displays his considerable technical wizardry and whimsical attention to details.
Stephen Hough, A Mozart Album (music by Mozart, Cramer, Friedman, Hough, Liszt)
(released March 11, 2008)
Online Mozart scores (Neue Mozart-Ausgabe)
The genesis of this program was in the 2006 Salzburg Festival when, for the big anniversary year, Hough gave a recital with the intention of joining Mozart to the contemporary (as Gloria Coates did with her 15th Symphony). He composed his Mozart Transformation (after Poulenc) for that event, in three movements based on Mozart juvenilia (the K. 1 Minuet and the K. 33 Klavierstück) and a later song, salvaged from the K. 595 piano concerto. Although the melodies are quoted exactly as Mozart wrote them, the harmony is tarted up with all kinds of trashy colors. Introducing it are two Romantic tributes to Mozart, Johann Baptist Cramer's Hommage à Mozart and Ignaz Friedman's Menuetto in D major, a refashioning of a movement from Mozart's K. 334 divertimento for string quartet and two horns.
Hear Stephen Hough for yourself this week, when he appears as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra (April 24 to 26), even if he is playing one of the Saint-Saëns concerti (no. 5, "Egyptian").