Schumann’s Piano Concerto is a Romantic warhorse (albeit a very charming one) but Dvořák’s is largely unknown, despite being championed by Firkušný and Richter (accompanied by Kleiber) who restored the original version.
Will advocacy by a pianist of Hough’s eminence convince people it’s a neglected masterpiece? Don’t expect any sublime ascents into the sunlit uplands or exhilarating ‘travelling tune’ allegros in the symphonies. Much of the Concerto falls between two stools: Hough has written about the “fiendish difficulty” of the solo part, although you’d never think so from his blend of heroic power, insight and finesse. There’s little overt bravura or man versus piano writing. The slow movement has moments of blissful repose but it’s only in the Finale that we recognise Dvořák’s hallmark earthy energy. It’s not first-rate Dvořák, but it’s interesting and worth the price of the CD.
The Schumann is an almost complete contrast: highly pianistic writing and a lyrical meshing between soloist and orchestra. There are many felicities in Hough’s reading, from the first movement’s ruminative passages (where I greatly prefer Hough to the more youthful impetuosity of the recently released Lisiecki) to the poetic whispered exchanges in the Intermezzo (which are never simply coy), and the exuberant schwung of the Finale. Hough gets excellent and sensitive support from the CBSO and Nelsons in lovely sound from a live performance.