Performer: Marc-Andre Hamelin
Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Size: 222 MB
02. Marche funebre: Andantino
04. Finale: Presto
06. Le vent
I first heard Alkan on public radio and was immediately amazed. This is the first of three CDs I have bought on Amazon-all played by Marc-Andre Hamelin. I think this is the best one to hear first. I’m no expert like most reviewers-just 6 years of piano lessons. But because of those I can truly be amazed at the technique and formidable use of the entire keyboard.
I think this is the most emotional of the three I have (also Troisieme recueil de chants, and Grande Sonate “Les quatre ages”). The beginning piece “Alegro” seems to me a beautiful, but at times, a soul searing ride to death as portrayed on the front illustration “The Dead Go Fast”. Nice art pick by Hyperion. The “Finale Presto” made me laugh. It seems traditional, but also sarcastic. I can just see clowns running all over and into each other because of those fast notes. And the “Presto” and many of Alkan’s other pieces make use of such fast notes that the piano sounds like water (or in the case of “Le Vent” wind).
I feel so lucky that these works are available on Amazon. Hope other “amateurs” give them a try.
This is the kind of disc it is almost unnecessary to review (especially since I don’t know Raymond Lewenthal’s alternative and celebrated performance of the symphony). Marc André Hamelin’s breathtaking, even unbelievable, technical proficiency is already legendary, and he has plenty of opportunities to shine in this music. But as most listeners familiar with his performances can attest to, his ability to dispatch virtuosic pyrotechnics with a flair, clarity and brilliance that remains peerless does not get in the way of his deep musicality and sensitivity to the musical aspects of his repertoire – the showmanship is always at the service of the music. That makes Alkan an obvious choice, of course – and Hamelin has already produced a series of recordings for Hyperion, all of which are mandatory acquisitions for any lover of piano music in any form – since Alkan’s music requires this kind of wizardry precisely to bring out its deeper musical qualities.
And those deeper qualities are there in Alkan’s music in the same manner they are there in Liszt’s. Alkan was no second-rate craftsman of empty vehicles for virtuosic display (though the music is a vehicle for virtuosic display as well). The Symphony for solo piano, which comprises nos. 4-7 of his magnum opus the 12 Études dans tous les tons mineurs op.39 (the Concerto for solo piano, which is perhaps even more spectacular for sheer technical wizardry, comprises nos. 8-10), is something of a masterpiece, or at least close to being one. Though one may, perhaps, question how well it works as a unified work, the movements are individually marvelous pieces and the fourth movement, in particular, is as gripping as anything Liszt ever wrote. And as already made clear, Hamelin dispatches this fiendishly challenging work with a level of flair and panache equal to nothing, while simultaneously bringing out all the details of the arguments while maintaining the overall narrative momentum. Take for instance the precision of the playing and, in particular, the scary exactitude with which he judges and realizes the most minute hints of a change in dynamics in small phrases or even series of repeated notes, even in the tempestuous torrents and avalanches of notes in the outer movements – well, I don’t know what to say about it except to shake my head in disbelief.
Of course, the Symphony is the main work here. The three Morceau dans le genre pathétique, however, are atmospheric, colorful and memorable works as well, and they are dispatched with the same kind of technical aplomb. The three shorter works offered in the middle are perhaps less immediately memorable, but in Hamelin’s hands they come across as more than I suspect they might be. Hyperion’s sound is clear and well-balanced, and precisely correctly distanced for us to be able to hear everything Hamelin is playing in crystalline clarity without losing its warmth. The notes are good as well, and in the short there is little doubt that this is a modern classic, a document for the future alongside the greatest of the legendary piano performances of the past. A magnificent achievement and an essential acquisition.