Stephen Hough - An action to die for

An Action to die for, of Clarity and Speed and Brilliance

Stephen Hough had decided to record the complete Beethoven piano concertos live across two concerts, but plans soon changed ...

In May 2019 the british pianist Steven Hough played Beethoven’s five numbered piano concertos live on two successive evenings with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Hannu Lintu at Musiikkitalo, Helsinki’s music Centre. The concerts had been recorded, broadcasted live on radio and filmed for television.


For the May issue of Gramophone, perfectionist Stephen Hough was interviewed by Jeremy Nicholas to get insights into his life and to find out why it took two attempts in two different locations for Hough to record all five Beethoven concertos:


 “We didn’t use a single thing from the live concert recordings. Not a thing. We changed pianos and started all over again.”

It took Hough two years to prepare for this project. The original idea was to rehearse and record all five concertos in the studio over five days in Helsinki. Then the idea of playing them all in two concerts was mooted. “Then”, says Hough, “the TV people heard about it and said they’d like cameras there – so the whole thing snowballed into something that was a little bit pressured. The mentalities for a recording, for a concert and for television are three different things.”

What happened to make the decision to scrap the live recordings? “I wasn’t tremendously happy with the sound of the piano on the recording. … Why don’t we just start again? …. I think it could be better. And I think it is. I’m really happy we did that”.


When Hough returned to these second sessions (to Helsinki), he arrived at the hall at nine o´clock of the night before to try the instrument. Hough ended up using the hall’s new Bösendorfer (280VC Vienna Concert)


I knew within five seconds that I wanted to use it.

It has an action to die for, of clarity and speed and brilliance.”


Stephen Hough loves to improvise with words and images – that new Bösendorfer in Helsinki, for instance, was “like a mango that is hard when you buy it but after a day you feel the resistance is going, the skin’s giving way and you peel it open and you’re just in ecstasy with the flavour and the juice is dribbling down your chin.”


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The Times UK – The Album of the Weekk

Beethoven Piano Concertos 1-5

Stephen Hough (piano), finish Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond Hannu Lintu

Hough uses a Viennese Bösendorfer, rather than a period instrument, but it permits a period-style brilliance and clarity of articulation rarely heard in these works. With Lintu and the Finnish orchestra’s complementary accomplishments, he sets tempi that always sound right, and invests every phrase with freshness and panache that takes the breath away.