Stephen Hough remains one of the most engaging personalities in the world of virtuoso pianists. He makes his wide range of interests—literary, visual, and religious—known to the world at large with grace and modesty, out of a genuine desire to contribute things that others with find enjoyable or helpful. He is even able to compose pieces, mostly of a light nature, which he sometimes interjects into his concert programs. Early in his career he built a reputation with his impressive technique, as he built a list of outstanding recordings of forgotten concerti and solo pieces which were too difficult for others to learn for the rare occasions on which they would be called for in concert. In recent years he has turned more to established classics in his concert programs, approaching them with a consistent style founded on attractive tone and a vision of the coherence of the works he plays.
"This is such a wonderful program!" gushed the volunteer showing me to my seat. She had already heard Thursday's concert and clearly looked forward to the repeat in a beatific mood. It made me reflect. Although audiences are more comfortable about being "educated" to a new piece these days – and the new pieces have become more accessible and performance-worthy – there is something to be said for not entering the concert hall as a captive. For once, our orchestra was simply going to play music we all know and love – and try to make us love it more. They succeeded. And it made for a satisfying evening.
More years ago than I care to remember (OK, about ten), Edward Moore, my piano teacher at university, told me he used to be a great fan of Maurizio Pollini, but had grown disenchanted with him because he thought his playing had become completely dry, overly safe and devoid of emotion. Perhaps because he was by far the best teacher I'd ever had, I took this opinion seriously and allowed it to influence my perception of Pollini ever after, remaining a devout sceptic despite his evidently immense popularity.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller's commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? - May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I've settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.