John Evans
November 2021

Stephen Hough looks out impishly at us from the booklet notes of this recording. He seems to be saying: ‘So you think you know these pieces? Well, have I got a surprise for you.’ The surprise is their freshness. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course; Hough’s playing is always insightful, but here he surpasses himself with performances that transport you to the Paris salons where Chopin presented his Nocturnes for the first time, delighting in their characters and indulging his improvisatory instincts. Under Hough's fingers, each Nocturne becomes a small story. He writes how opera was Chopin’s favourite art form and singers, not pianists, his musical heroes. Hough explores the vocal dimension in the Nocturnes with playing that reveals their long, singing lines—but he’s not afraid to explore their darker side either, his playing conveying their shifting moods like cloud shadows passing over a field.