Stephen Hough (piano)The Jacqueline du Pré Music Building4 November« « « «For their tenth anniversary year, the organisers of the Jacqueline du Pré music building have wooed a number of illustrious artiststo perform there, among them Stephen Hough, a world-renowned pianist who has won Gramophone’s Record of the Year twice in the past ten years. His programme consisted of a diverse selection on a theme of Mozart, for the composer’s 250th birthday in 2006.The evening began with Mozart’s dark Fantasia in C minor K475. Hough emphasised the piece’s suddenchanges of mood, highlighting its possible origins as a notated improvisation. After briefly leaving the stage, he returned to further applause and burst straight into Schumann’s Fantasy in C major Op.17. His stentorian delivery of the opening theme, accompanied by the smoothest ripple of left-hand semiquavers, gripped the audience from the outset. The second movement,a march based on an obsessive dotted rhythm, was dispatched with ease (even the notorious leaps in the coda), drawing a smattering of applause before he began the final movement. The undulating arpeggios throughout were beautifully pedalled and his carefully graded dynamics gave the perfect degree of shading to the bass melodies. He calmly ended the first half of the concert to raptuousapplause, returning to the stage three times.The second half began with a return to Mozart, with the Sonata in B flat major K333, of which Hough gave an elegant reading. Resisting the common urge to oversentimentalise Mozart’s music, Hough’s playing was fleet throughout, with notably clean passagework and ornamentation in the graceful rondo. Next, he played a set of his own pieces, entitled Three Mozart Transformations (after Poulenc). The first, a subversively seductive, even bluesy, version of the Minuet K1, was followed by the Klavierstück K33, now a prickly futurist work, replete with punchy dissonances. The final piece, based on Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge K596, was elaborated in a lusciously romantic fashion. Hough’s playing was exceptional, and he communicatedthe humour of the pieces as only the composer himself could.The final piece was Liszt’s Fantasy on Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, as completed by Ferruccio Busoni. This rare paraphrase, played by such greats as Gilels and Horowitz, is seldom heard due to its length and complexity. Stephen Hough possessesample technique to deal with its accumulation of virtuoso devices, not to mention the delicacy required in its central section based on Voi che sapete, sung out amidst whirling accompaniment above and below. In the closing minutes, Hough developedNon più andrai to a devastating climax leading to the final descent of the keyboard in alternating chords, which left the man next to me shaking his head in disbelief at the speed and accuracy of Hough’s playing. The rapturous applause was calmed by two encores, Mompou’s Young Girls in the Garden, delicately played, and Stephen Hough’s own Osmanthus’ Romp, an exhilarating way to conclude one of the most memorable concerts seen in Oxford for some time, by one of the greatest pianists of the current generation.ARCHIVE: 5th week MT 2005