As Britain’s elder-statesman pianist, Stephen Hough has always thought outside the box, making unexpected juxtapositions, exhuming forgotten treasures, and interlarding things with compositions of his own. This CD offers a tour d’horizon of works on the theme of death, but there’s nothing morbid about it. Chopin’s 'funeral march' sonata is of course present, but so also are some works we seldom hear. Most people know Busoni’s majestic transcription of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No 2 in D minor, which Hough invests with a wonderful monumentality, but I had not heard Busoni’s Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen to which Hough brings a fizzing exuberance.
If Liszt’s Funérailles, with its pervasive use of the tritone—the 'Devil’s interval'—has a grimly sinister atmosphere, his Bagatelle sans tonalité comes over as mysteriously today as it must have done when premiered in 1885. An enigmatic piece by Hough gives the CD its title, and his arrangement of a Korean song gives things a pleasingly oriental twist. As Hough observes, death is the final piece on everyone’s recital programme: his encore here is a dreamy rendering of Gounod’s meditation on the first Prelude in Bach’s 48, which brings us the Ave Maria we got to know courtesy of the young Charlotte Church. With Hough, it’s needless to add that the pianism is immaculate throughout.