In an age where most performers dedicate their whole life to music, Stephen Hough is a remarkable exception. Something of a Renaissance man, not only is he one of the world's foremost concert pianists, but he also paints, composes, writes poetry and blogs.

© Grant Hiroshima
© Grant Hiroshima

This evening's programme on the theme of 'strange sonatas' was framed by two of the best-known works by Beethoven and Liszt. The opening of the Moonlight Sonata had a pure, unsentimental beauty, and was notable for the way Hough eschewed the familiar thematic material, instead bringing out the darker colours of the left hand. The wild tempo of the Presto agitato bordered on the edge of instability, which made for an immensely exciting performance.

Hough gave a powerful account of the Liszt Sonata, whose dark opening descent was daringly blurred. His intensely rhythmic approach brought out the demonic character in much of this music, with its fearsome octaves and relentless tremolos. Relief came with the major-key theme, whose repeated chord accompaniment suggested a warm orchestral texture. Hough exploited the dramatic silences throughout, making this well-known piece sound as shocking as when it was first heard.

Sandwiched between these two famous sonatas were three 'mini-sonatas', Nos. 4 and 5 by Scriabin as well as the world premiere of one of Hough's own works, 'Broken branches'. Both Scriabin sonatas were written in the key of F sharp major, a significant key for the synaesthetic composer who experienced music as colour. Scriabin's music is often elusive in character: rhythmically complex and harmonically extended, but Hough brought a great sense of clarity to these short but demanding works. The flying blur of his machine-like wrists brought to life Scriabin's explicit expression marks, where the pianist is instructed to play 'caressingly', 'burning' and 'jubilant.'

Hough's own work was less of a sonata and more of a series of miniatures in the mould of Janáček's On an Overgrown path, sometimes directly quoting rhythmic figures from this intimate cycle. Much of the work was written in a rich Romantic style blended by swathes of pedal, while the central section looked towards the more extended tonality and angular shapes of Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives.

As if that wasn't enough, we were then treated to three encores: Chopin's Nocturne in Eb, an unknown short, lyrical work and Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse, which charged straight towards its exuberant climax. Hough seemed as if he could have gone on playing all night, but the audience were already satisfied with his packed programme performed with supreme virtuosity, reminding us why he is one of the world's most sought-after performers.