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.


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.