Stephen Hough, at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham
Stephen Hough has become one of our hottest properties: everything the pianist touches seems to turn to gold.
Yet there is nothing flash about him. His undoubted virtuosity serves as a vehicle for thoughtfully-delivered performances within carefully-constructed programmes, as a packed Barber auditorium relished on Wednesday.
There was an improvisatory feel to much of this, beginning with a brittle, ruminatory Bach D minor Toccata and Fugue in an arrangement by the great Alfred Cortot touched up by Hough himself (a creative artist both in music and in philosophical literature).
Various Faure pieces, sensitively delivered, seemed to make strange bedfellows until Hough brought the two strands together in Cesar Franck's mighty Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. Organ-loft seclusion evoked both rippling figurations and richness of tone, chording beautifully weighted, and delivered with the cogency of the Liszt Sonata.
We ended with a sidestep to Chopin, his B major Nocturne and weighty B minor Sonata a perfect foil for each other, and delivered with fingerlight fantasy and intellectual inwardness.
Shame about the spoofy encores (why do we need them?), and even worse the driving off the campus, which yet again was harder than a prison breakout. This obsession with security spoils the evening.