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Music : Hough Plays With Virtuosity but Without Color

To the casual observer, Stephen Hough may seem like a young pianist who has it all: technique and facility, an intriguing repertory, an intelligent and probing musical mind.

And he does--as far as it goes. At the British pianist’s latest Southern California recital, Friday night at UCLA, he put together a joy of a program, then failed to get the most out of it.

Hough’s lacks are easy to list, difficult to remedy. His approach to the keyboard looks direct and resourceful--his fingers are reliable and independent, his accuracy solid--but what he draws out of the piano are sounds missing by far the possible hues and shades we know it contains.

At the instrument, both Hough’s pianissimo and fortissimo--as well as the all-important dynamic middle ground--lack presence. Variations in touch seldom appear in his playing, and the inner workings--the voicing of ideas--in much of the music he plays only infrequently emerge clearly to the listener.

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Color is the essential quality missing in Hough’s playing, and the lack seems as much in the personality of the pianist as in his technical equipment.

His agenda on Friday--Czerny’s irresistible “Variations Brillants,” Opus 14, an exuberant and poetic group of eight pieces and transcriptions by Liszt, and Carl Tausig’s “Hungarian Gypsy Airs"--should have elicited super-brilliant, magnanimous and multilevel musical experiences. It did not.

Instead, abundant efficiency in a gray stream of monochromatic sound characterized this event.

There were fireworks, and a display of virtuosity, to be sure--among them some great moments in the Tausig showpiece and Liszt’s transcription of the Waltz from Gounod’s “Faust"--but also a sameness of aural textures that seemed to contradict the kaleidoscopic nature of most of this music. Disappointing.


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