INKPOT#46 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Marc-Andre Hamelin “Live” At Wigmore Hall (Hyperion)
Marc-Andr Hamelin “Live” at Wigmore Hall
Beethoven/Alkan Allegro con brio [18.41]1st movement from Beethovens Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37Chopin/Balakirev Romanza: Larghetto [ 10.25]from Chopins Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor. Op 11 transcribed by Balakirev.
Alkan Trois Grande Etudes, op.76 “for the hands separately and reunited” [29.52]
Fantasie in A flat major (left hand) [9.27] Introduction, Variations and Finale in D major (right hand) [15.19] Movement semblable et pertetuel [Rondo-Toccato in C minor] (hands reunited) [5’06]
Busoni Sonatina No.6, Kammer Fantasie uber Carmen, BV284 after Bizet [7.35]
Medtner Danza festiva op.38 no.3 (Forgotten Melodies Vol. 1) [5.16]
MARC-ANDR HAMELIN piano
HYPERION Records CDA 66765 [71’56”] full price
Johann D’Souza Before I bought this disc, I had read a review in Gramophone which gave these comments: “Titanic awe-inspiring truly phenomenal a disc I cannot recommend too highly. Buy it !” In addition:
“An exceptional disc by one of the keyboard phenomena of todayJaw dropping An awesome display of virtuoso pianism” – Classic CD”This is amongst the most spectacular piano issues of the decade.” – Penguin Guide to Compact disc.
“Superlatives fail me. Just go and buy it.” – Hi Fi News.
“Every Hamelin recording is an Event, and this is not to be missed by anyone who cares for genuinely transcendental playing” – Fanfare, USA
“Some of the most astonishing playing of the decade” -BBC Music Magazine Top 1000 CDs Guide
It is not everyday that buying a CD becomes so easy. Never have I seen so many accolades given to one pianist so early in his recording career. Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Horowitz only received these accolades late in their careers. Sad but true – it is these two pianists that worked so hard to establish their careers in the early 1920s-50s. They are now considered legends and will be remembered as such. However in my opinion there will be many pianists of this century that will join the greats of the past. My prediction is that those in this category will be the likes of Boris Berezovsky, Marc-André Hamelin (left), Nikolai Demidenko, Evgeny Kissin, Barry Douglas, Martha Argerich, Stephen Hough, Krystian Zimmerman and the other Russian Andrei Gavrilov.
This disc has a mixture of pieces which will be fancied by any listener of piano music. Although the music on this disc are not strictly by the Beethoven, Liszt or Chopin, these are pieces from the greats which have been arranged by lesser-known composers. Let us take for instance the first piece, the Alkan transcription of the first movement from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor. Hamelin is the only person that has ever put this down on disc, so while it is hard to make a comparison believe me there will be very few in a long time. The music has all the trappings of a Liszt transcription of the concerto, very similar to those of the (Liszt) transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies. Hamelin is able to make you feel you are in a concert hall and he has the arduous task of putting all these instruments together to sound like a concerto for orchestra and solo piano. His timing is immaculate, his finger work is polished and supple. I am not surprised if they make an impression of his hands, like they did in the movie “Shine” where they showed us the hands of Sergei Rachmaninoff. After hearing him you will understand what I mean.
The second piece is actually a transcribed work of Chopin’s(right) by Balakirev, by far a composer not known for his piano works although the piece may sound very much like the original version. I think that it could still pass off as the second movement of Chopins piano concerto unless you are an avid listener able to notice the subtle differences which Balakirev has added. I personally do not know if there are other transcriptions made by Balakirev, but this piece has made me decide to check up on the available discography of his piano music. Hamelins rendition of this reading shows also another side of his playing, that of the inner depth which is needed for this piece. This movement is a tear-jerker – and has to be. Even Chopins intentions were made clear to his friend Titus Woyciechowski on 15th May 1830: “It is not meant to be loud – its more of a romance, quiet, melancholic; it should give the impression of gazing tenderly at a place which brings to mind a thousand dear memories. Its a sort of meditation in beautiful spring weather but by moonlight.”
The Trois Grandes Etudes, Op.76 is aptly described in the CD sleeve, calling Alkans music a range of “sonorities, a cosmos of textural spacing and extremes, a span of melodic dialogues and chordal balances as brilliantly lit and theatrically charged in their associative imagery as anything orchestral.” One notices that Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) lived during the time of Liszt and Tchaikovsky. There are strong traces of the Liszt Etudes d Execution transcendante dapre Paganini, especially around the 1830-40 period. Ronald Smith, the eminent Chopin critique, has said that Alkan not only provided Liszt with a worthy rival as a peer but drove each other to higher degrees in virtuosity.
It is interesting to note that it was in this period that some of the greatest exponents of virtuosity made their mark: Liszt, Thalberg, Busoni(left) and Sorabji. Marc-André Hamelin is by no means a small person and this in my opinion helps him in terms of strength when the difficult parts (especially those of the right hand) is taken to “stratospheric summits of experience”. One may ask why is this important: well, Alkan provides an all-embracing register and dynamic scale and this puts physical demands not only on the fingers but extends to the body and feet. This is by no means for the faint-hearted! It wouldn’t be surprising that, while listening to this disc, you’ll wonder if there are in fact two pianists playing!
Even the last etude displays a presto of terrifying muscular and psychological adjustment. While this piece may be only 5 minutes long this is very similar to the last movement of the “Funeral March Sonata” of Chopin, only this time with the heavy arpeggio legatos gliding across the 88-key piano thrown in. The piece is very fast (“Rondo-Toccata”), very similar to the Prokofiev Toccata that it must be heard to be believed. The surprising glissandos and speed of the right hand shifts to the left in the ending, with the last few chords ending in a powerful sostenuto of disciplined chords. For the ardent pianist who listens to this piece without seeing how it is played, my guess is that Hamelin must be keeping his fingers very close to the keys to bring out the ultra-smooth legatos which are necessary to provide the superfluous flow. The piece ends to the thunderous applause and whistles of approval from the crowd. I thought back to when I last did that at a concert – and undoubtedly it was also at his concert during the International Piano Festival held here in 1997.
Busoni’s Sonatina No.6 is a brief arrangement of themes from the opera by Bizet a la Busoni style. This piece is actually dedicated to Liszt, with all the theatrics thrown in for good measure. The ending has the gypsy Carmens “fate” motif, the one with the descending chromatic melody of the Habanera , reminiscent also of the violin version by Saraste and the piano version played by Arcadi Volodos in his Volodos album.
The Danza Festiva, Op.38 No.3, ends the recital. This was the piece that Hamelin gave as an encore in the second concert. I wish Hyperion would go on to record the complete Wigmore hall recitals. On the whole this is a must-buy for any pianist or pianophile, as well as those being introduced to the great art of piano-playing.
This disc is available at or can be ordered from Beethoven Record House (Centrepoint). It may also be found or ordered at Tower (Pacific Plaza), HMV (The Heeren), Sing Discs (Raffles City) or Borders Music (Wheelock Place).
Johann D’Souza‘s wish for the new year is that the our Asian countries reunite and that the currency crisis ends as he greatly wants to tour the States and visit London.
Other classical music reviews by this or any other writer can be obtained from the InkVault by doing a key word search with the writer’s name.