Stephen Hough
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Stephen Hough - Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven (Verbier 2011)

Stephen Hough - Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven (Verbier 2011)

Stephen Hough - Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven (Verbier 2011)

I’m not sure I’ve used the term genius in the past when describing a performer. I’m not sure it applies here either, but it’s pretty darn close.

Stephen Hough was a candidate for genius while playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the San Diego Symphony on Saturday night, May 23, but I will shy away from a true pronouncement of genius. I would say that his interpretation of the Third was brilliantly indulgent.

It was not self-indulgent. There are pianists out there who are self-indulgent but Hough is not one of them. I had no doubt that his performance was dedicated to Beethoven and the audience but this was clearly Hough’s version of Beethoven — and I like that.

This was a well thought out experience of Beethoven. I’m not sure there was much spontaneity. Hough had clearly mapped out his path. Mapped out his path? More like pinpointed his path with military-grade GPS.

I’m not a big period performance lover. I like a musician to give their own interpretation instead of trying to mimic what the composer intended. Which is, of course, an interpretation.

What made Hough’s performance indulgent? What he did with the solo part made more of the third than it actually is.

This performance leaned more toward the Emperor Concerto which Beethoven wrote about 10 years later, instead of the late Mozart Piano Concerti written about 10 years earlier.

To my casual ear, this music lies almost exactly in the middle of that range. I’m not a musicologist and I have done zero research on the subject. “I’m just saying” what it sounded like. There are elements that recall Mozart and others that herald later Beethoven.

However, the Third is neither of these completely, which affords a performer the opportunity to go either way or even both as was probably the case with Hough, now that I think about it.

We’ll talk about Brahms another time.

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