Hough's CD is Gramophone's most popular

Thu Sep 25, 2008 10:41am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British pianist Stephen Hough's recording of Saint-Saens piano concertos was named most popular classical CD of the last 30 years on Thursday, but he wasn't expecting a run on the record stores.

"Maybe more people will listen to Saint-Saens after this, I don't know," he said modestly, in an interview with Reuters.

The music magazine Gramophone announced the surprise choice of a Briton's recording on a small label (Hyperion) of music by a lesser-known 19th-century French composer, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo, at a ceremony in a posh London hotel.

Other winners from the magazine's annual effort to draw attention to the flagging classical recording scene were British pianist Paul Lewis, record of the year for Beethoven sonatas; American violinist Hilary Hahn named artist of the year and a lifetime achievement award for American conductor Andre Previn.

Hough, beating out the likes of the late German conducting giant Herbert von Karajan in a reader poll conducted jointly with the Times of London may send ripples through music circles, but it won't raise an eyebrow among Hough's many admirers.

This is, after all, the 46-year-old who in 2001 was the first classical musician to be awarded one of the U.S.-based MacArthur Foundation's $500,000 "genius" grants -- which he spent largely to buy a studio to house his three pianos.

In addition to his recording and performing career, he doubles (or triples) as composer, poet, writer and something of an activist on behalf of Roman Catholics who happen to be gay.

Talking to Reuters at a relaxed bistro the night before the awards, he'd just completed writing what might be described as an "extreme" trio -- for piano with piccolo and contrabassoon -- two wind instruments at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum.   Continued...