Composer: Charles-Valentin Alkan, Ferruccio Busoni, Samuel Feinberg, Leopold Godowsky, Nikolai Medtner
Performer: Marc-André Hamelin
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Size: 189 MB
01. Godowsky – Toccata in G flat major
02. Scriabin – Poeme tragique
03. Hamelin – Etude No, 9 d’apres Rossini
04. Hamelin – Etude No. 10 d’apres Chopin (pour les idees noires)
05. Feinberg – Bach Schübler Chorale No. 6 (transcription)
06. Alkan – Haydn Symphony No. 94 In G “Surprise” – Andante (transcription)
07. Alkan – 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 – Book 4 #46. Le Premier Billet Doux
08. Alkan – 48 Esquisses, Op. 63 – Book 4#47. Scherzetto
09. Busoni – Fantasia Nach J S Bach
10. Rachmaninov – Moments Musicaux, Op. 16 Revised – 2. E Flat Minor
11. Rachmaninov – Études-Tableaux, Op. 33 – 7. E Flat
12. Scriabin – Deux Poèmes, Op. 71 1. Fantastique
13. Scriabin – Deux Poèmes, Op. 71 2. En Rêvant, Avec Une Grande Douceur
14. Feinberg – Berceuse, Op. 19A
15. Medtner – Three Morceaux, Op. 31 – 1. Improvisation In B Flat Minor
16. Sorabji – Pastiche On The Hindu Merchant’s Song From “Sadko” By Rimsky-Korsakov
17. Hamelin – Étude #12 “Prelude & Fugue”
Virtuosic and inspired playing – a pianophile’s wet dream
Most of us think of blistering bravura and gravity-defying virtuosity when we think of Marc-Andre Hamelin. After all, the guy is known for launching himself into the most difficult piano repertoire in the history of piano music (although he has yet to tackle Sorabji’s monstrous Opus Clavicembalisticum). In the area of conquering technical demands, Hamelin is simply one of the greats, if not THE great. However, I believe he can often be a superb interpreter, too. Look at Alkan’s Souvenirs Trois Morceaux Op. 15, Medtner’s sonatas, and even the Schumann Symphonic Etudes. When he is passionate and intelligent with his introspections on the pieces he plays, the addition of his indomitable virtuosity makes him a colossus of a musician.
The numerous 3-star reviews below are rather baffling. I understand that some may dislike his overwhelming focus on technical supremacy. This has been an Achilles heel at times; his Alkan Op. 39, for instance, was a complete disaster and embarrassment because he went for technical perfection instead of full-blooded passion (like Jack Gibbons). On this recording, though, Hamelin fuses both technical superiority and subtle emotional details, producing some truly inspired renditions of these pieces. And the pieces here are really all over the place; most of these were new to my ears. The main highlights here are, in my opinion, the following: Scriabin’s Poeme tragique, Haydn-Alkan’s Andante from the Surprise Symphony, Busoni’s Fantasia on JS Bach, and Medtner’s Improvisation No. 1.
I agree with another reviewer here that it’s ridiculous for Hamelin to pepper his own compositions, his etudes, throughout the disc, as if they have as much merit as Scriabin or Rachmaninov. However, I actually like Hamelin’s etudes. Their dense polyphonic textures and dizzying passagework makes for wonderful musical escapades. His Prelude and Fugue is a tireless dissonant storm of notes, but there is also substance of musical interest as well. But Hamelin shines best in the works of other composers. His rendition of Scriabin’s Poem tragique is both spirited and brooding; his ability to make the chordal bass accompaniment echo is quite satisfying. The Alkan transcription of Haydn’s Andante from the Surprise Symphony is sheer delight. Alkan’s fidelity to the endearing Haydn melody is pleasing, and his daring virtuosic episodes are marvelous.
The most profound work on this recording is Busoni’s Fantasia on JS Bach. It’s hard to believe this haunting music of extreme pathos is from Busoni’s pen; when not ensconced in contrapuntal webs, the music sounds like late Liszt. There are scarcely any moments of fanfare or volatile passagework; instead, this cerebral music gently traverses through some Bach themes and various melancholy digressions. Thus I must restate my confusion regarding some of the other reviewers who lambaste Hamelin’s performance. How can one not hear Hamelin’s sincere emotional outpouring here? Such a heart-felt, sublime, and discerning execution is priceless.
The other works here are just as notable, but it would be exhausting for both myself and the reader to continue with commentary. Suffice it to say, his Medtner and Rachmaninov are outstanding; the Sorabji piece is peculiarly interesting and the Feinberg Berceuse extremely eerie and mysterious. In short, all of these pieces are pianistic treats. My only problem is the placement of Hamelin’s etudes. I don’t think his compositions are substantial enough to be placed side-by-side with Scriabin or Sorabji. I think he might have paid a better homage by giving us Henselt, Rubinstein, Lyapunov or Tausig pieces instead.
Bottom line: For pianophiles, this is an impressive powerhouse of a recording. On it, Hamelin showcases some splendid obscurities with a mighty unbeatable virtuosity and yes, even poetic feeling. Every piece here has something memorable or even great about it, so I have to disagree with some of the naysayers about the music’s worth. Busoni’s Fantasia alone is worth the price of this disc.
A LOVELY COLLECTION OF VIRTUOSIC PIECES
HAMELIN Marc-Andre’. Villa-Lobos Piano Music. DDD. 2000. M-A H, p.
HAMELIN Marc-Andre’. Composer Pianists. Hyperion. 1998. M-A H, p.
One album of solo piano music by Villa-Lobos. Another of pieces of pieces by pianist composers from Godowsky to Hamelin.
The first album is consistent, extremely well played, but ultimately it’s not all that exciting. Once you learn Villa=-Lobos’s tics, you listen to them over and over. It’s technically proficient but the music is emotionally less than fully satisfying. (It’s hard to explain why: I love Fabio Zanon’s rendering of V-L’s works for guitar, but find less pleasing his piano pieces, whether played by Hamelin, a consummate pianist, or Nelson Freire. Equally good. Whatever, this album lacks variety.
The second album, Hamelin playing composer pianists from Godowsky, Scriabin (the three Scriabin pieces on this album are among the best on the album), Alkan, Busoni and others, up through Hamelin himself (tricky stuff well composed and played), Rachmaninoff and Sorabji. These pieces are the piano equivalent of the much better known pieces by violin maestri from Paganini through Kreisler -=the emphasis is less on long piece flow than on virtuosic display. But, oh my, is it fun! And my oh my, does Hamelin play them well. All told, it’s a very satisfying album which I have played time and time again while driving (middle distances) in my car, and it’s worked. It’s fine music, not great compositions but I love listening to them.
(It’s almost the classical equivalent of listening to good mainstream jazz.)
A recital by Marc-Andre Hamelin
Hamelin gives us here a dazzling 70 min recital of music by composers from Bach and Haydn (in more modern transcriptions) to Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, with three Etudes (Nos 9, 10 and 12) composed by Hamelin himself. This is simply an exhilarating concert of piano music. The works themselves are quite beautiful and Hamelin’s playing phenomenal – playing that a generation or two ago we would have rarely heard except from Rachmaninoff himself and similar world-class pianists. The wit that Hamlin shows in turning Rossini’s La Danza into a breath-taking tarantella is most enjoyable. That wit is very apparent too in Alkan’s transcription of the `surprise’ movement of Haydn’s Symphony No.94. Busoni was himself a prodigious pianist who had great respect for the music of J.S. Bach and Hamelin’s playing does due justice to both in the Busoni Fantasia on a theme taken from one of Bach’s organ pieces. There are two works by Scriabin, two by Rachmaninoff, a Medtner Improvisation and Sorabji’s pastiche on the Hindu Merchant’s Song from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Sadko to complete the programme. The range of tonal colour that Hamelin coaxes from his instrument in this programme is a joy to listen to.