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Liszt piano work unfolds in the hands of pianist Stephen Hough and the BSO

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

There usually comes a time when a classical soloist, if good enough and lucky enough, can pick and choose the works he or she will perform in concert.

"I stopped playing pieces that are not near and dear to my heart," said pianist Stephen Hough. "I only want to play the ones I love now; and I do love this piece."

He is referring to Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2, which he performs with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Hannu Lintu, Thursday at the Music Center at Strathmore.

"The second concerto, more than the first, has a real lyrical vein and a real expressive quality, which I find attractive and appealing," Hough explained. "It is [written] in one movement, and it's like a sort of journey, a short story, in a way."

Onstage
BSO: Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2
» Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 8 p.m. Thursday
» Info: $31 to $91; 410-783-8000; bsomusic.org

Franz Liszt, a composer of the late Romantic period, was himself an attractive and appealing performer on piano, which made him very popular with the public throughout his entire career. As a composer, however, he was introspective and fastidious, having spent more than seven years laboring on this second piano concerto before it finally debuted in 1857.

"Liszt changes the way you hear it," Hough, a frequent performer with the BSO, continued. "He makes it fast, then he makes it slow. In the end, it's really about improvising. I think you could just imagine the opening of the piece, sitting down at the piano and playing this series of chords, each one not quite sure where the next one is going to go. This piece, to me, unfolds a little bit like a flower."

Still, that is not to write off the piece as fluff. On the contrary, as is typical with Liszt's works, the concerto exhibits numerous brilliant virtuosic passages contrasted with the light interplay of theme between piano and orchestra. What is absent from the concerto is the gut-wrenching kind of emotion inherent in works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2 enjoys a comfortable placement on the program, sandwiched between the evening's other two offerings, Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem "Francesca da Rimini" and the dramatic Sibelius work Symphony No. 2.

"With Liszt, everything is a little bit more on the surface," Hough said. "But sometimes, there are very nice things on the surface."

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