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Marc-André Hamelin : Live at Wigmore Hall
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) : Concerto pour piano n° 3 en do mineur, op. 37 / Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) : Concerto pour piano n° 1 en mi mineur, B 53/op. 11 / Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888) : Grandes 3 Études pour piano, op. 76 / Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) : Sonatine super Carmen, K 284 "Kammerfantasie" / Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) : 8 Mélodies oubliées pour piano, op. 38 / Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE / CRITICS' CHOICE 'Titanic ... awe-inspiring ... truly phenomenal ... A disc I cannot recommend too highly. Buy it!' --Gramophone
CLASSIC CD 100 GREATEST DISCS OF THE DECADE .'An exceptional disc by one of the keyboard phenomena of today ... Jaw dropping ... An awesome display of virtuoso pianism' --Classic CD
'The most dazzling piano disc of the year' --The Guardian
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"Live at Wigmore Hall" is culled from three recitals presented in June 1994. The programs, designed by producer Ates Orga, bore fanciful titles: The Concert Room, Grand Opera and Song, and The Salon.
The music, much of it transcription, is by composer-performers who pushed the boundaries of their art. Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813-1888), the reclusive French virtuoso and a Hamelin staple, figures largely. His massive conceptions challenge the listener's appreciation of music itself. Take for example the cadenza to Alkan's transcription of the first movement of the Beethoven Piano Concerto #3. Along with the typical recap of the main themes, Alkan maniacally conjoins Beethoven's Fifth symphony for even starker dramatic relief. It lasts six minutes, one third of the entire piece. Hamelin fills the hall with sound, his total control casting an icy glitter. Who is Alkan's audience? In the composer's day, few performers would even attempt these works in public. The rewards of playing them seemed apparent only to a few discerning artists, Franz Liszt among them. Busoni and Petri kept Alkan alive in the early part of our century; Raymond Lewenthal was the first to make extensive recordings in the Sixties; recent champions include pianist-scholar Ronald Smith and Hamelin.
After dispatching that monster, Hamelin relaxes with the fragrant Balakirev reduction of the "Romanza" from Chopin's Piano Concerto #1. It's the least removed from the original of the transcriptions played here. The main course is next: Alkan's "Tres Grandes Etudes" for the hands separately and united. The gauche etude precedes by sixty years the popularity of left hand works, and it's likely nothing written since has been as formidable. At one point, Hamelin negotiates what has to be two pages of leaps in bristling chords. When I first heard it I thought I detected some hesitation on his part; I now chalk it up to rubato! As the heroic chords draw to a close silence. Perhaps Hamelin takes a drink of water here. Then the right hand has its say in a fifteen minute novella of arpeggio studies and five-fingered counterpoint. The music becomes a test of will. As Hamelin lifts his hands from the keys, concluding yet another ringing coda, we can imagine him waving off first aid. He pounces again; beginning from a hush, the soft pedal fully engaged, the hands-united etude emerges, whirring like a dynamo. For some five minutes, the notes whip by at a speed that threatens to invoke relativity. The musical quotient dips a bit here, but in the blistering parallel scales, Alkan does his countryman Charles Hanon proud. Then, abruptly, it's over. The audience sighs with relief, and seeing that Hamelin is free of demonic possession, erupts in applause.
Dessert is sweet. Hamelin shows a beguiling tone in the Busoni "Carmen" Sonatina which treats some of Bizet's familiar themes with mordant éclat. Medtner's "Danza Festiva" closes the program with a whirl.
I hope this pseudo-correspondence gives a sense of the occasion and magnetism generated by these performances. Not all the music is inspired, but Hyperion is to be congratulated for staging this high-wire act. Bravo, Mr. Hamelin!
I've been listening to this disc weekly for the past two years and it never fails to amaze me. Every piece on this CD is an absolute gem and every performance a towering masterpiece of interpretation. Let's start with the opening Alkan transcription: Never have I witnessed a more supremely satisfying fusion of genius: The genius of Beethoven as composer, the genius of Alkan as transcriber, and the genius of Marc-Andre Hamelin as interpreter. Every time I listen I find more to praise. Any single track on this CD would be worth the price of the disc but with the mammoth Alkan transcription, the beautiful and well-placed Balakirev transcription, the epic 'Troise Grande Etudes', the highly original Busoni sonatine, and the brilliant encore - Medtner's 'Danza Festiva', this recording is an embarrassment of riches, an absolute feast.
If I'd ever dare to call a performance "perfect", I'd venture with this recital. If there are any flaws here, they're buried under the technical and musical greatness which overrides and
Hamelin has no equal as an interpreter of Alkan; he inhabits the overheated world of this strange proto-Lisztian figure with a completeness that combines a total mastery of its fearsome technical challenges with an innate understanding of its sometime elusive emotional content.
A huge achievement...and not only technically but musically as well. Hamelin delivers on every level: this recording had me gasping in disbelief, and then laughing out loud at the sheer audacity of it all. Hamelin is a revelation. Where was I before I discovered Him? I might as well have been unconscious.