Monday, June 01, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

A man alone, save for his grand piano, playing to an empty Wigmore Hall (apart from Andrew McGregor and the venue’s Director, John Gilhooly, as separated as you can get in this space) yet live for the ears and eyes of many listeners and viewers. This could be likened to a recording session, for which the producer had decreed complete takes only, and for which guests were welcome to eavesdrop from a safe distance.

This Stephen Hough recital was the first of twenty lunchtime events at Wigmore Hall this June, Mondays to Fridays. I listened on BBC Radio 3, a tangible relay, and watched the Wigmore Hall pictures, sound muted, although the two were not coordinated, the (simply filmed) images arriving roughly twenty seconds after the audio. It mattered not as my ears were doing the work, and, anyway, I imagine the video will remain available for a little while.

Presented for Radio 3 with palpable excitement, tempered by decorum, by McGregor, Hough opened with a magisterial account of Ferruccio Busoni’s imposing transcription of the closing Chaconne from J. S. Bach’s Partita in D-minor for unaccompanied violin. Hough brought dignity, electricity, strength and subtlety to the expansive whole, and went on to convey passion, tenderness and volatility to Robert Schumann’s C-major Fantasy (Opus 17), its first movement demanding all those qualities; the finger-twisting, impetuous, second was fearlessly projected without making it obvious; and the Finale was gently strummed with melodies etched by moonlight. Hough’s encore was transporting, the Gounod Ave Maria based on well-tempered Bach. Throughout, the live-ness of the music-making was never in doubt.