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A Dreamlike Musical Landscape, with Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough
Sim Canetty-Clarke
Stephen Hough

There's a lot to look forward to when Stephen Hough releases a new album: his warm and nuanced playing is often topped off with a delicious dose of liner notes, as revealing and lovingly crafted as the music itself. Hear the swirling textures of his new CD, "The Dream Album," WCRB's CD of the Week.

Stephen Hough's latest recording is the seventh in his series of "Albums." These concept recordings began in 1993 with The Piano Album. In 2012 he made a "French Album." Hough has an intimate way with the piano, and a brilliant nose for filling out a thematic idea with a rich array of fascinating pieces. This time, with The Dream Album, he offers 27 miniatures that are all gems, each of them an emotional slice of Hough's life. They are encores, childhood favorites, and, because he is one of the rare composer/pianists of our time, pieces written with love and cleverness for his friends.

It doesn't take long for Hough to set the mood in his written introduction: "We long for spells to be cast, for phantoms to be grasped, to enter a state of ecstasy." The overarching theme of "dreaming" is about wistfulness, transformation, and nostalgia. For each piece, there is a perfect sentence to contextualize its place in Hough's life.

Hough first heard Mompou's "Jeunes Filles au Jardin" (track 27) on an album with a format much like this one. He was a very small boy at the time. "I knew Mompou before I knew Mozart," he says, and it's one of the first pieces he learned. Now it's been an encore for over forty years, and he hopes it will be the last piece he plays when his career comes to a close.

Liszt, Sibelius, Dvorak, Elgar, and Chaminade are here, alongside jewels by composers you may never have heard of; it's fun to learn where they were discovered. Arthur Tate's "Somewhere A Voice is Calling" was in an uncle's piano bench. (He calls it slightly "overheated" and his transcription "turns up the gas" even a bit more.) William Seymer's "Solöga" was handed to him by a producer in Gothenburg after a dress rehearsal. Hough transcribed Henry Love's sentimental song "Das Alte Lied" after hearing an old 78 of Richard Tauber. Julius Isserlis’s "In the Steppes" is one minute and seventeen seconds of gorgeous, tapered phrases with enough room to let in the melancholy silence it’s built on: "It was a scholarship named after this Russian pianist which enabled me to study in New York. Years later I met his cellist grandson..." Now Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough are dear friends and renowned musical partners.

Stephen Hough lives in a creative world with many identities – an author (his book The Final Retreat was just published); his pianist facility and fantastic imagination compel him toward exquisite transcription; he has had solo exhibitions of his paintings; and he teaches at Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music – all while touring like a madman.

The Dream Album features Stephen Hough's artful magic at the piano: phrases that melt, glissandos made of fairy dust, and his uncanny ability to sneak up on you with a tug at the heart. It’s beautifully recorded by the wizards at Hyperion – a joy from start to finish.

Listen to a sampler for the album:

Hear an interview with WCRB's Cathy Fuller and Stephen Hough.

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.