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George Tsontakis Man of Sorrows etc

also contains

Tsontakis Sarabesque
Schoenberg 6 kleine Klavierstuecke Op 19
Webern Variations for Piano Op 27
Berg Sonata Op 1


Stephen Hough (piano)

Detroit SO / Litton


Hyperion CDA 67564

George Tsontakis (b 1951) is a modern composer not afraid to draw on the past, to leaven the cutting edge of his work with, admittedly post-modern, recollections of the established tradition. This disc is reminiscent of Lera Auerbach; one suspects both are prudently aware that audiences react better if they have something familiar to hang on to. One hears echoes not just of Beethoven (the Es Muss Sein theme is used as a title and as the theme in two movements) but of composers as diverse as Beethoven (in the Diabellis), Bernstein, Copland, and Cesar Franck.

The stations of this Cross contain many moments that are very simply beautiful; the tinkling bells in ‘Shards' for example, which turn into a peal at the apprehension of resurrection within the crucifixion. However disparate the influences, Tsontakis succeeds in welding together a work of real spirituality, which will surely move every listener. Litton and the Detroit players are extremely sensitive, flexible interpreters.

This is also a fine artist portrait of the CD's protagonist, Stephen Hough. Hough is a fine intellect who composes and champions much new music. As a committed Catholic, Hough will have enjoyed the devotional element of the Man of Sorrows. In recent interviews, he revealed that when he was in a car crash and thought his end had come, he devoted what he thought were his last moments to preparing his mind to meet God. One imagines he might feel very close to the striking ritualistic progression of the work and even its numerology (Hough was even a computer adept long before most musicians even sent e-mails).

The Man of Sorrows calls for understated virtuosity – serving God without showing off. Hough's detractors point to the relative paleness of his playing, his frequent lack of emotionality. This is not true here (witness the delightful envoi at the end of the second movement), but in any case is irrelevant for a disc whose works demand both intellectuality and restraint.The first Schoenberg piece, 'leicht, zart' and played by Hough with the utmost delicacy, might serve as a touchstone for this CD and for Hough's art. These pieces, and the Weberns, are magnum in parvo in Hough's fingers and worth the price of the disc on their own. Hough's Berg is similarly fine; muscular and refined by turns, if not quite as compelling. The Wolfian Sarabesque again brings fine filigree playing from Hough.

Simon Eadon's recording is of the highest quality, beautifully capturing the treble. Though this disc was a plesant surprise, I remain antipathetic to the sort of post-modern project that Tsontakis represents. But it would be impossible not to recognise that this is an absolutely outstandingly realised project; two entirely complementary halves; deeply impressive playing and compositions of absolute integrity.

Ying Chang .