Classical, September 2020

Piano Concertos Nos 1-5
Stephen Hough, Finnish RSO/Hannu Lintu
Hyperion CDA68291/3 (three discs; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

These recordings were made last June, after concert performances at the Helsinki Music Centre, Stephen Hough playing a Bösendorfer Vienna concert grand. He uses the composer's cadenzas except in 2(i) – a 1m 45s piece by the pianist himself, more fitting than Beethoven's 'Hammerklavier' one. In No 4 he also lightly arpeggiates the opening chord – but there's no thrilling glissando at the recap. in 1(i). Time and again Hough surprises with his exact dynamic or timing detail yet everything makes sense in this very consistent cycle. And he gets a matching partner in Lintu (comparable to the Kempff/Leitner DG). This set ideally shows the Beethoven's pianistic journey from 2 to 5. CB


L'heure Bleu
Works by Hartmann, Hersant, Hildegard of Bingen, and Shostakovich
Le Concert Idéale/Marianne Piketty
Evidence EVCD068

The 'fleeting moment between the end of night and the beginning of day' inspired this programme. Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Concerto Funèbre is the main work, reduced in scale with just eight accompanying strings. Three of 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen's Visions are pungently transcribed, and two movts from teenage Shostakovich's Octet. Philippe Hersant's Une Vision d'Hildegarde, commissioned by the group, also quotes the Hartmann concerto. Recorded in Noirloc Abbey at the end of last year, these are performances that crackle with electricity. CB


Pictures At An Exhibition/La Valse
Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM905282 (downloads to 44.1kHz/24-bit res)

Most versions of Pictures have a heavy, 'Russian' weight. But Roth – discarding score amendments made by Koussevitzky (who commissioned the 1922 orchestration by Ravel) has period instruments, with a more translucent outcome. Les Siècles' brass contingent really shines here, in the somewhat too reverberant Paris Philharmonie. The lively 'Tuileries', 'Unhatched Chicks' and 'Limoges Market' come off best, though other conductors have brought more character to some of the Pictures. Roth emphasises every twist and turn of La Valse but does so rather at the expense of a continuous flow, I felt. CB


R Strauss
Also Sprach Zarathustra; Till Eulenspiegel; Don Juan
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester/Krzysztof Urbanski
Alpha ALPHA413 (downloads to 48kHz/24-bit resolution)

In the two shorter character portraits Urbański has more to say than Petrenko, on his Lawo Strauss disc [HFN Feb '20] – the readings are spacious, brilliantly efficient rather than affectionate. Urbański achieves the same clarity found in his Stravinsky [see Opinion, HFN Aug '20]. He was only 14 when the world went mad to hear the Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey 'Sunrise' opener – Strauss in philosophical mood composing Zarathustra after Nietzsche. Urbański's is a version well worth hearing. This is all from live performances given at Hamburg's Laieszhalle in 2016, where it sounds as if the mics were set far back. CB