Liszt was fortunate in the year he was born. With little competition for his bicentenary he was assured of wall-to-wall coverage last year and performances of his music are still rolling on in the lull before the exceptional clutch of musical anniversaries (Verdi, Wagner, Britten, Lutoslawski) that is due to hit in 2013.
Among the most memorable of last year’s events was Daniel Barenboim’s heroic performance of both the piano concertos in one evening. Although the two concertos fit together well enough in terms of timing, they are not generally crowd-pullers. But that did not stop Stephen Hough offering the same ambitious pairing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Wednesday.
It is hard to imagine two pianists further apart on the musical spectrum. Barenboim plunged into the concertos with deep, rich tone, creating music dramas like the grandest of Wagnerian operas (and never mind all the wrong notes). Hough is a perfectionist, who would never think of letting a wrong note slip through his fingers, and where Barenboim lingered in the romantic shadows, Hough’s place is always in the light, dazzling listeners with his fingerwork. His delight in precision makes him closer to the standard virtuoso in Liszt, but above all he is a musician, as passage after passage showed. So limpidly expressive was the slow central section of the First Concerto that it could have been by Chopin.
Hough was assured of sterling support from the LPO and the evening’s conductor, Marin Alsop. Teamed with a soloist who is so light-fingered and agile, they were careful not be too loud or too heavy.
A long and generous programme placed Czech symphonies on either side of the concertos. Martinu’s Symphony No 6, not often heard, made a welcome start, clothed in more subtle colours than usual, and, to end, Alsop drew very decent playing from the LPO in a performance of Dvorák’s Symphony No 8, which, like her Brahms symphonies, came with good sense and enough vitality.