Andris Nelsons and the CBSO clearly relish the symphonic nature of the piece and their playing is one of the great pleasures here. The concerto’s opening theme could be by no one else, though the mood soon darkens with a cautionary figure sounded first by violas and cellos. Nelsons imbues this with an affecting resignation, Kleiber sounding more openly disturbed. Hough enters the conversation with great subtlety and he’s certainly unafraid to point out the score’s lyrical beauties, allowing the music to unfold with suppleness without underplaying its drama or, where required, heft.
The glorious slow movement, which is launched by a New World-like horn solo, needs careful pacing: get it wrong and the question-and-answer writing can sound forced and overly sectionalised. Richter and Kleiber dare to take a slightly more drawn-out approach than this new recording, but both versions are compelling, and the CBSO players relish Dvořák’s unfettered wind-writing. Another black spot is the Risoluto (tr 2, 3'31" on the new CD); in the wrong hands its accented motif—first in the major, then the minor—can sound trite but Hough gives it a playful quality, to which the orchestra gleefully respond. Another highlight is the very end of the slow movement, where the piano-writing ascends, drawing the orchestra up with it.
I slightly prefer Richter’s way with the foot-stomping theme that opens the finale, which is superbly complemented by the earthiness of Kleiber’s orchestra. Hough sounds just a tad deliberate by comparison (compared to Piemontesi too, who is fearless here). This is a hideously ungrateful movement for the pianist and Hough is remarkable in not having a note out of place. And he certainly brings the house down at the end, setting the seal on a performance that is full of panache.
From a work at the margins of the repertoire to one that is absolutely centre stage. The Schumann Concerto is, in Hough’s hands, both boldly symphonic and utterly flexible, the pianist hardly making life easy for the conductor—though Nelsons is completely unfazed. The opening is strong and bold, adjectives that apply equally to the first movement’s cadenza, which has grandeur as well as excitement. Sample tr 4 from 4'50" and this will give you a taster: Hough, first solo and then as chamber musician, is ravishing but also dangerously becalmed. But for me a bigger stumbling block is the way he turns Schumann’s Intermezzo into something altogether more languorous (the stretched-out cello theme at 1'21" will give you an idea); just compare Shelley in this movement—to my mind pretty much unsurpassed among modern-day recordings. Symphonic breadth triumphs over Mozartian lightness in the finale, yet that weight is offset by some superbly delicate figuration from Hough.
So a slightly mixed bag; but this version of the Dvořák should put it on the map for a new generation. Personal and heartfelt notes from Steven Isserlis and a superbly natural recording complete the package. (Gramophone)