Jonathan Blumhofer
The Arts Fuse, USA
July 2020

Last is Stephen Hough’s survey of the five concerti with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (FRSO) and Hannu Lintu on Hyperion. Theirs is an invigorating set, one that balances the best qualities of the historically informed movement—quick tempos, lean textures—with the full-bodied intensity of modern-orchestra Beethoven.

The First Concerto opens with a grand, rousing orchestral exposition that’s echoed by Hough’s energetic, beautifully phrased execution of the piano part. Throughout, textural transparency is the rule and, while there isn’t a hint of sentiment in this reading, Hough’s Beethoven is anything but clinical: quite the opposite—it’s always warm and lived-in. The radiant slow movement offers delicate episodes between solo clarinet and piano, while the finale is lithe and jocular.

The same qualities mark Hough’s rendition of the Second Concerto, which also includes some welcome embellishments in the repetitions of the finale’s rondo refrain.

In the Third Concerto, Hough draws a mix of turbulence and elegance from the involved keyboard part. All of it is beautifully shaded and smartly shaped, though. The slow movement is spacious and sonorous, the finale elegant but rhythmically tight—and capped by a rousing coda.

Contrasts of space and texture mark much of Hough’s account of the Fourth Concerto which is highlighted by a series of relaxed yet urgent dialogues between piano and orchestra in the opening movement.

For the Fifth Concerto, Hough takes a markedly lyrical approach. As a result, the first movement feels somewhat understated, though it doesn’t lack in rhythmic or sonic power when those are called for. The middle movement is time-stopping and serene, the finale frolicsome, energetic, and songful.

Throughout, Lintu and the FRSO supply accompaniments that are the model of expressive and technical precision. Woodwind solos, in particular, are spotless; balances between piano and orchestra flawless; tempos smart; attention to phrasings, dynamics, and articulative details pristine. The result is a captivating cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos that sounds and feels distinctly vital.

The Arts Fuse, USA