Stephen Hough - Lyric Pieces (Hyperion)
"I think one of the challenges for young people now is to find that absolute absorption in the task at hand," says pianist Stephen Hough, "and one might almost say a kind of contemplation, that you look at something and you work with it. And I think this is very true with serious music. You know, working on the great works of Brahms and Beethoven, these are pieces you can't just skim. You have to dig very, very deep to get to the roots of them. I think we're living in a very skim-like society. Not just the milk that we choose for our coffee, you know. We need to get some of the full-fat of the study, I think, back into the way we work."
Stephen Hough's focus is laser sharp. That's why he's so accomplished as a concert pianist, composer, writer and painter. "I just do what I do and try to do more," he explains. "I'm constantly adventurous about things, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't."
One of Stephen Hough's most recent adventures found him reminiscing over the 66 Lyric pieces written by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. "I've loved these pieces since I was a child," Hough admits. "They're pieces that were written to be played at home. Most are playable by an amateur pianist. They were for domestic consumption and Grieg sold a lot of copies of them in his lifetime and shortly after. They're probably a little out of fashion now, because they're not really concert pieces, though I've certainly played a few of them as encores over the years."
Stephen hand-picked 27 of his favorite Lyric Pieces from Grieg's complete collection. Each one reflects a different mood through rich musical imagery. "Well, I went through the entire volume and I chose all the ones I liked it was as simple as that and it turned out that this is the number … there were none that I excluded because of sense of time. And we do them chronologically as they appear in the book. So you start at the beginning and you end at the end.
"I think one of the things I'd like to point out first of all is that the first piece, the Arietta, is a very early piece … it's from the very beginning of his compositional life. And the last piece is the same piece all over again but arranged as a waltz, Remembrances. And that sums up for me the poignancy of the whole set, the nostalgia, the melancholy. Because here's Grieg at the end of his life, remembering that he started writing these pieces so long ago. They've been part of his life, his whole creative life … he'd jot down these sketches. They probably came from improvisations.
"I love these pieces," Hough continues. "They're very intimate. They're very melancholy. They remind me of someone well, indeed as [Grieg] was in a country in winter [where] it's dark and cold outside. And inside there's a fire crackling and you're making music in this domestic setting. And I think Grieg is a genius in the way he's able, in these short pieces, to create such atmosphere and such mood. They're very sad, some of them, and very human.
"And Grieg's voice is an original voice. He sounds like no one else. And this started at the beginning of his creative life. It's partly his harmonic language, it's partly the way he uses the folk music of Norway and weaves it into a late Romantic harmonic palette. He had a trend, he had a brand, and he kept it going till the end, much like the Volkswagen. There it is today, many years later, almost the same shape and it's still a brand."
Stephen Hough adding his own charm to that original brand on 27 of his favorite Lyric pieces by Edvard Grieg.