After enduring months of music deprivation, everyone had a strong yearning for a real, live performance and, particularly so, for a solo piano recital.  Our last outdoor concert of Summer at Breinton 2020, a piano recital by Stephen Hough, was a truly memorable event. Even the weather was on our side, with plenty of sunshine and a very gentle breeze!

The audiences’ focus was amazing – as the first chords of Bach-Busoni’s Chaconne burst into the open air, an absolute silence prevailed in the garden. Even the birds stopped chirping; there was nothing but the piano sounds played by Stephen.

Stephen’s playing drew everyone in; it was approachable and unmistakably his own.  The Bach-Busoni Chaconne was intensely dramatic but never rushed, conveying passages of every variation to be absorbed in full by the audience. The Schumann Fantasies’ overwhelming emotional surges and dreamy expressions were felt and even the subtle mood change and acute rhythmical phrases were apparent.

The second half was Chopin and Liszt – ‘contemporaries’ of their period who were polar opposites, but thoroughly the sole reason why we were all here today, according to Stephen. Ballade No. 3, Scherzo No. 2, Funerailles and Mephisto; to be honest, the time just flew, feeling pure excitement and the spirit of Stephen’s magnificent playing! Sadly, all came to an end with the utterly beautiful Schumann Traumerei drifting into silence.

Every piano lover knows Stephen Hough, but not everyone has been as lucky as us to hear him live during this very restricted Covid period. For such a mega-star, he was unbelievably easy-going, unassuming and friendly without any hint of arrogance (and this was our 94th recital, so we do know!). He was ready to take on a challenge in this swiftly changing environment, adopting unconventional ways, and being very relaxed and flexible. To our delight, he was also happy to mix with our guests after the recital (equipped with a facial shield!). What an asset he is to the modern music industry.