Review: Stephen Hough, at Lichfield Cathedral
Over the Bank Holiday, Lichfield Cathedral effectively mounted a mini-Stephen Hough Festival.
A recital by Hough in the cathedral’s nave was followed on Sunday by the first complete performance of Hough’s recently-composed Missa Mirabilis, given as part of that morning’s Sung Eucharist.
Hough had clearly thought about the nature of the space, opening his recital with two works which – if not strictly church music – have a cathedral acoustic implied in every bar.
Alfred Cortot’s glittering transcription of Bach’s D minor Toccata and Fugue made a surprisingly heavyweight opener; Hough leaving the opening declamations to hang, pealing, in the air. The effect was stark and ritualistic rather than the expected high-gothic extravaganza.
In César Franck’s tremendous Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Hough held tight control of Franck’s vaulting structure while still managing to bring out an almost impressionistic range of keyboard colours. The same qualities made his Chopin B minor Sonata a thing of both melting expression and utterly convincing formal grandeur.
And the composer was in the congregation the next morning for the first opportunity to hear his Mass complete.
This is the work that was with Hough in 2006 when he survived a near-fatal car crash; but even without that knowledge, its glowing romanticism and joyous sense of spiritual conviction would have made their mark.
With its soaring treble lines, thunderous organ solos and gorgeous, ecstatic dissonances, it reminded this listener above all of Janacék’s Glagolitic Mass. Would it be sacrilege to hope for a concert performance?