Pianist deftly manages an enormous presence

Stephen Hough followed Tchaikovsky with Chopin's introspective "Nocturne in E Flat." SIM CANETTY-CLARKE
Stephen Hough followed Tchaikovsky with Chopin's introspective "Nocturne in E Flat." SIM CANETTY-CLARKE
Posted: January 14, 2014

With all the audience energy coming at him after a Tchaikovsky concerto Friday night, Stephen Hough could have kept feeding the atmosphere with a highly charged Russian encore from, say, Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, or the predictable "Flight of the Bumblebee." But he honed expectations on a pool of introspection: Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat, Op. 9, No. 2.

You know the one - the elegant waltz hanging on simple architecture. Here, spooling out in spare, steady harmonic changes, it's all about small expressive gestures and tone. Hough mastered a particularly difficult paradox of perspective. His right hand drew pearls of quiet, and all the while the distance in Verizon Hall seemed to shrink away.

He kept doing that. Even in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor, the British pianist created an enormous presence for his sound without a trace of percussiveness. This was quite a feat in the opening, where the saturated sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra laid out an expansive melody while Hough projected over it handily.

Dynamics were carefully managed, but so was articulation. In the second movement, it was an especially pliable agent to his emotional aims. The rising arpeggiated chords near the end were treated dryly - sweet, yet not treacly.

If Hough and conductor Robin Ticciati were ever so slightly out of sync in a couple of spots, it seemed like the kind of trouble that likely evaporated by the second performance. Ticciati was mostly a controlled and somewhat understated force, as he was elsewhere in the program. In Liadov's The Enchanted Lake - brief, impressionistic - he was less dramatic than befits a work dependent on atmosphere and effect.

In Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, Ticciati allowed his prosaic side to dominate. Some of the reluctance to take interpretive chances might have been opening-night jitters, or, more likely, the 30-year-old - who takes over the Glyndebourne Festival in the spring with a new Der Rosenkavalier - is still deepening.

There was great, promise, though. The first movement ventured quite a bit of fluctuation in tempo, and his personality asserted itself in a small turn of a phrase here or dynamic change there.

Like Simon Rattle, Ticciati likes to deploy an impossibly quiet dynamic for effect, as in the third movement.

His choice of tempo in the second movement was just right, and for the smartest of reasons. Taking it quicker than usual, even in the opening, not only lifted the mood, but also firmly connected the main theme to its Russian vernacular. A good sign, this, that in addition to conductor, Ticciati is well along in being a thinker.


No additional performances.


pdobrin@phillynews.com

215-854-5611

www.inquirer.com/artswatch

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