Grieg, Lyric Pieces, S. Hough (Hyperion, 2015)
In a rhetorical flourish, Hough arranged the pieces into a near-perfect chiasmus, with the four ballades of Chopin at the center, broken up by intermission -- even the re-ordering of the ballades, 2-1-3-4, served the mirror form, putting the most difficult ballades on the outside. Hough applied a broad rubato to the Debussy pieces, both stretching and rushing ahead, that still managed to sound somehow systematic, beginning with the whispered La plus que lente. The three movements of Estampes bristled with all kinds of pleasing details, but one missed a more velvety touch, especially in legato phrases that did not quite melt together, which would have added some misty brushstrokes to obscure the overly clean lines. Hough's rendition of Children's Corner, with many of its more challenging passages played with mechanical efficiency, seemed at times to want to show a kinship with Stravinsky's more primitivistic style. I felt no more comfortable with Hough playing Golliwog's Cakewalk than I did with the Salzburg Marionettes' use of the same character in La boîte à joujoux -- as if the goal of not sanitizing art could make one feel any more comfortable with resurrecting the minstrel show in blackface. L'Isle Joyeuse, played without much sustaining pedal, felt dry and percussive, and in his drive to make a climactic final statement, Hough walloped the keyboard far beyond what seemed necessary.
Anne Midgette, The right Hough: Pianist delivers superb recital at Terrace Theater (Washington Post, April 3)
Janelle Gelfand, A conversation with piano star Stephen Hough (Cincinnati Enquirer, March 29)