Liszt: Annees de pelerinage (CD)

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Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough has the ample virtuoso credentials to excel in these demanding exemplars of Romantic piano music. Only rarely do we miss the rhetorical flourishes or the big, burnished tone and philosophical depth of an Arrau, but this is a first-rate reading of wonderful piano music. Hough's performance of "Vallé d'Obermann," the longest by far of the Swiss book of the Années, is played like the large-scale tone poem it is, and he fully conveys the work's meditation on nature's mysteries. His tempo freedoms in "Au bord d'une source" help make this astounding "water music" a miracle of color and mood. Throughout, Hough's fleet fingers dazzle in the difficult passages and his tonal subtleties reflect the poetry in these nine pieces. The operatic paraphrases may be less ambitious music, but it's hard to resist the toe-tapping bounce he gives the waltz from Gounod's Faust or the gentle beauties of the Roméo et Juliette Réverie and the Berceuse from the now all-but-forgotten La Reine de Saba. In all, a well-recorded, well-filled disc of superb pianism.