A MOZART ALBUM = Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475; Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 333; Fantasia in C Minor, K. 396; CRAMER: Homage a Mozart; FRIEDMAN: Menuetto in D Major; HOUGH: Three Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc); LISZT/BUSONI: Fantasia on Two Themes from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” – Stephen Hough, piano- Hyperion CDA67598, 70:05 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Recorded 5-7 November 2006 in St. George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, this fine Mozart recital features several of the composer’s more audacious flights of musical imagination, such as the elegantly bold Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475 (1785), rife with alternating lyrical and punishing impulses, the tremolos of which prefigure Beethoven’s Appassionata and bravura figures in Liszt. Hough keeps a tight rein on the dynamic levels, stressing the inner tensions and the chromatic flights of fancy. Wonderful stretti in the latter pages attest to the “turbid ebb and flow of human misery” that Mozart could express in his own terms. The more modest K. 396 (1782) conveys its own, inner demons, though the piece resolves into a balmy rather than throws down a willful gauntlet, as does K. 475. The chromatic progressions and diminished chords assert themselves subtly, but to the same jarring effect as the larger fantasia. Ariettas and flourishes begin, but they suffer broken promises and interruptions. Mozart’s vision having peered into the darkness.
The B-flat Major Sonata (1783) has Hough light-handed bravura but no less harmonically alert, especially to the darker impulses that belie the Alberti bass and fleet figures residing at the music’s surface. Hough’s playing proves as lyrically vocal–on an usually transparent-action Steinway–as it is plastically articulate in the presto passages. Many a Hough collector will relish the Andante cantabile for its pearly balance; the Allegretto giocoso at several points fulfills our desire to hear Hough in a Mozart concerto. The whole movement proceeds as a startling duet, major an minor contending amidst ebullient, instrumental and bel canto phrases, of which Mozart has an inexhaustible supply.
The second half of this sweet album ofers Mozart through others’ perceptions. Cramer’s etude from Op. 103, a rather florid exercise in E-flat Major with a romantic lilt that skitters and sighs in fond reminiscence. Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948) endures as a great pianist (of Chopin and Mendelssohn) who here arranges a Mozart divertimento (K. 334) movement as a romantic harmonization in frothy double trills and pizzicato effects. Stephen Hough adds a bit of vinegar to the mix by setting Mozart’s Minuet and Klavierstucke (2006) in frisky, askew harmonizations in the playful spirit of Poulenc and smirking Stravinsky. The latter piece is a music-box from The Twilight Zone. The song setting Sehnsucht nach dem Fruehlinge make several passes at the K. 595 Piano Concerto in B-flat Major.
Finally, Liszt’s wild splicing of arias from The Marriage of Figaro–Non piu andrai and Voi che sapete–into a visceral, melodramatic brew of rustling and volcanic intensities. Busoni removed from Liszt’s original the passages that borrow from Don Giovanni to tighten the structure and coherence of this simultaneously elegant and bombastic piece. Here, Hough finds himself among the Liszt worthies Rosen, Rosenthal, Bolet, and Petri for sheer beauty of contour and Herculean drive. The range of colors is the big attraction of this bravura piece, and Hough meets its challenges with taste and effortless technical security.
— Gary Lemco