JS Bach / arr. Busoni Chaconne in D minor BWV 1004
Stephen Hough Piano Sonata IV
Chopin Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 35
Ferruccio Busoni Sonatina No6 (Carmen Fantasy) BV284; Berceuse elegiaque Op 42
Franz Liszt Funérailles – No 7 from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses S173; Mephisto Waltz ‘Bagatelle without tonality’ S216a; Mephisto Waltz No 1 S514
This is a hugely welcome return to St George’s for one of the world’s undisputed great pianists.
People are often reluctant to talk about death, but in the world of the arts – and music – death has always been a central subject resulting in the most exalted and inexhaustible expression. Here, Stephen explores pieces with this theme as part of their identity or inspiration. Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata and Liszt’s Funérailles speak for themselves – and that Liszt wrote the latter in the same month as Chopin’s death may or may not have been an accident. Bach’s Chaconne was apparently written in memory of his first wife; Busoni’s Berceuse acquired the subtitle ‘The man’s lullaby at his mother’s coffin’ when he orchestrated it; and the same composer’s artful reworking of music from Bizet’s opera Carmen depicts the calamity of death by murder.
Tucked into this probing and beautifully balanced programme is Stephen Hough’s Fourth Piano Sonata. This sonata takes a more abstract if still melancholy inspiration from such ideas: life’s brevity, a ‘sonata’ which ends sooner than expected.
And in Liszt’s two Mephisto Waltzes we face the Devil himself – the cause of death and its terrors in traditional Christian devotion: the final fear for the final hour.