Stephen Hough's Missa Mirabilis

The English pianist Stephen Hough is hardly unknown on the music scene; The New York Times gave him a full-page profile in advance of his Carnegie Hall recital earlier this month, and many of his recordings (including much-praised complete Rachmaninoff and Saint-Saens concertos) have been spectacular successes. As the Times story makes clear, Hough is a Renaissance man: not only an effortless virtuoso who seems to manage fiendishly difficult music without a sweat, but a composer, painter, poet, onetime MacArthur Fellow, and eclectic blogger for the UK Telegraph.

Hough converted to Roman Catholicism in his teens, attracted to the church in part by a performance of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (based on Cardinal Newman's poem). On his blog, he reflects regularly on faith and the church from his perspective as a gay Catholic, and responds with exceptional calm and class to some of the combox flame wars that inevitably follow.

Recently Hough has been raising his profile as a composer: at his New York recital he gave the U.S. premiere of his Second Piano Sonata, notturno luminoso, a fearsomely virtuosic picture of sleeplessness and night visions that I cant wait to hear again. But he has also been devoting attention to sacred music. His 22-minute Missa Mirabilis, written in 2007 for Westminster Cathedral, recently had its U.S. premiere and was also just broadcast on the BBC. Here's the end of the Credo, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by David Robertson:

Listen to the whole thing here, but hurry if youre interested: It's a live concert recording that may disappear quickly from the BBC website.

If you think you hear the influence of Francis Poulenc's choral music, that isnt an accident; Hough is a Poulenc admirer. And for those who have never heard Hough play, here he is with a Chopin waltz:

Thomas Baker is the publisher of Commonweal

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