Debussy UFC: Barenboim vs. Hough

Both have albums out this month: which comes out on top?

I’ve not heard the Hough yet, but I suspect it’ll be as bloodless as all his other recordings. Seriously, the UK hasn’t had a decent pianist since John Ogdon :frowning:

Barenboim’s was OK, though a bit populist (does anyone need another interpretation of Clair de lune?), and the inclusion of Jardins sous la pluie was superfluous (there’s better Debussy out there, but I suppose he wanted to record all of the Estampes).

Hey! I love Hough! But yeah, he hasn’t been at his best - or at least not his most consistent - in many years now (~<2001, IMO).

I normally don’t like Barenboim, but I attended a recital with him about a year ago or two which was actually good. I wouldn’t have super expectations on either album, but could imagine listening to both.

I do want to like Hough, but I feel like he gets a pass for being British and gay (lots of reviews mention his hats), and I can’t remember the last time I heard a performance of his which made me feel any interest at all.

I like Barenboim, though I think sometimes he just gets to record whatever he likes without much critical input from the label. I think his Duke Ellington album must be the worst album of any decent pianist ever… I’m sure I read somewhere that he barely practices and mostly just wings it. I did like his Beethoven masterclasses - especially when he schooled David Kadouch in basic counting!

I can confirm the latter. The DB recital I attended had a Schubert sonata in the first half which was excellent, but Liszt in the second which was beyond his capabilities. Not only pianistically, but the sheer physical stamina required for the Mephisto for instance wasn’t there. He concluded in good style with a mesmerizing Chopin Nocturne however, so all smiles in the end after all.

Saying I don’t like Barenboim is perhaps not quite truthful… I sometimes listen to his Mendelssohn SWWs for instance, and musically speaking I have nothing against him. It’s rather that I feel he’s highly overrated. His reputation rests more on image & association than actual merits IMO.

OK, I’ve listened to the Hough. I do prefer his programme to Barenboim’s, but I found it typically too mannered. Too affected in its studied ‘musicality’ - far too much rubato, and he just doesn’t understand ‘Et la lune descend…’ - in trying to be mystical and transcendent he misses both! (Much like Arrau in the variations of Op. 109)…

Following your comment about earlier Hough being better, I did try his 1989 Schumann and 1996 Franck albums and found them much more palatable. He’s never going to be a favourite of mine, but I agree he used to be better - maybe read too many gushing reviews!

Barenboim wins the tussle for me, though neither of them will replace my preference for Février, Francois and Gieseking (with an honourable mention for Michelangeli)

Personally, I don’t even think of Barenboim as a pianist.
Hough I’ve downloaded but haven’t listened to yet.

Not any more, no, that’s fair enough - but he used to be pretty good, back when playing was all he did. Nowadays he just relies on his name and his musicality to get him through.


Hough is a kind of pianist who didn’t exist back in the Gieseking/Francois etc days, and who owes more to ABM than those two, so with that as the reference I can see if he comes across as a bit of an alien. I appreciate his eloquence at the piano, that typically British aristocracy in his playing which blends wonderfully with Liszt for instance, his digital tech, and that I think he’s got a rare ear for characterization. For him at his best however, I’d go STILL further back in time. To here, for instance:

Or here:

OK, wow! I’d not heard his early Liszt recordings, and as you say, his tech and slightly aloof persona serve these scintillating pieces very well indeed. The Rhapsodie Espagnole, which I’ve just found, was great too. His Liszt sonata was much less effective for me - I couldn’t tell in places whether he was going for weird agogic accents or just couldn’t get around quickly enough.