Recently commenting on Teju Cole’s witty tweet, “Spring is coming. Please remember to spay or neuter your poets,” pianist/composer/blogger Stephen Hough countered with an eloquent plea for the value of pronounced artistic sentiments in an age of cynical scholarship and criticism.
Hough demonstrated that belief Tuesday night at the keyboard, his third appearance with the CAMA Masterseries and the first in seven years. “Poetry,” in fact, may be the best word to describe this unusual program of short works, which consisted of overlooked solo piano fragments, mostly from composers who were known for bigger things. Much of the arresting beauty of this performance was in the understatement, the low dynamics, the pauses, and the sense of unhurried leisure.
Each movement of Arnold Schönberg’s Six Little Pieces, Op. 19 (1911) averages less than a minute. These brilliant little bonbons are innocent and fresh in their flirts with atonality, unlike some of the self-consciously tortuous opuses by imitators to come. Lyrical early works by two Richards — Strauss and Wagner — followed. Erinnerung by Anton Bruckner and Brahms’s Seven Fantasien, Op.116 completed the first half. In all, Hough’s programming and marvelous piano skills pulled together a unique assemblage of simple and spontaneous-like musical statements. But this ode to spontaneity was carried to the next level after intermission when Hough played Frédéric Chopin’s Four Ballades, with its dramatic contrasts and ragtime-like breakouts. It’s amazing enough that Chopin could freeze the flow of his imagination on paper — doubly amazing that Hough breathes the immediacy back in.