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Robert Schumann : Fantaisie En Ut Majeur , Op. 17 ...
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This disc contains Schumann's three greatest abstract works for piano (as opposed to his suites of character pieces such as Carnival and Kinderszenen), including the Fantasy Op 17 arguably his finest piano work. Marc-André Hamelin has lived with these works for many years, and has made something of a speciality of the C major Fantasy, which he has played many times in concert. These performances have been widely praised, and we are delighted that this studio recording captures all the poetry and Romantic feeling of his live performances. Schumann was, of course, primarily a lyricist of the piano, but that did not stop him writing some of the most fearsomely difficult passages in the repertoire: the coda to the second movement of the Fantasy is an infamous example, as are many of the variations in the Études symphoniques. Nevertheless, Marc-André Hamelin's legendary virtuosity allows him complete freedom to concentrate on the music rather than merely on the technical challenges. His now familiar hallmarks of refinement of tone and clarity of line, coupled with his warmth of expression, enable him to communicate Schumann's poetry with a rare poise and passion. All in all, this is yet another outstanding recording to add to Hamelin's impressive discography for Hyperion.
Supreme artistry (Pianist Magazine) These are among the most poetic readings you will find by anyone. The tone is beautiful, the phrases long and songful, the drama passionate. This disc whets one s appetite for more mainstream masterpieces from the world s fastest fingers (The Capital Times) For me the outstanding performance is the great C major Fantasie...so beautifully voiced and phrased I can only say that it moved me more deeply than any I have heard for a long time (Gramophone) 'A dazzling technician fuses technical dexterity and poetry to compelling effect' (Gramophone) If you want to experience a whirlwind ride, Hamelin is definitely your man. A remarkable tour-de-force (The Irish Times) 'Hamelin brings a transcendental technique and passionate romantic temperament to music that, more often than not, is the preserve of pianistic intellectuals and poets. But his performances of the great C major Fantasy and the Symphonic Studies are not merely exercises in virtuosity. His astounding feats of dexterity and dazzling spectrum of colour are constantly put to the service of the music. This is freshly conceived Schumann, light and brilliant in bravura passages - the concluding Allegro brillante of the Etudes rarely sounds so joyous - yet never lightweight in reflective music: the slow third movement of the Fantasy is a poignantly poetic meditation, while the lovely Andantino of the Sonata glows with an entirely appropriate inward emotional intensity. Hamelin's Schumann ideally combines the extrovert and introspective characteristics of this glorious music. Highly recommended.' (The Sunday Times) 'Genuinely outstanding disc' (The Guardian) 'While there s no shortage of either visceral excitement or poetic exploration, this remains supremely balanced playing ... If you re already a Hamelin aficionado, of course, you won t need my urging to buy this disc; but if you ve been wary because of his usually offbeat repertoire, here s a chance to see what he can contribute to the mainstream. Top recommendation' (Fanfare, USA) '[Hamelin s] reading is glorious in its blend of virtuosity and emotional commitment ... The recording quality is first-rate. I doubt very much if the current year will produce a finer piano CD --Musical Opinion
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I looked forward to this recording a great deal. I could think of no pianist better equipped to deal with the thorny technical demands of Schumann than Hamelin. He gives us a fiery and heroic effort. It is a spacious account, well conceived, wonderfully thought out and (as expected) brilliantly executed. But, it is on the spiritual and emotional plane that Schumann somehow eludes Hamelin; he comes close but stops short of the summit, and at times this most romantic of works sounds too deliberate, direct and literal.
However, the very qualities which undermine Hamelin in the Fantasy make for great performance of the G-minor Sonata. Hamelin makes a compelling argument for a work which has languished on the fringes of the literature. Rather ironically this sonata, its companion in F-sharp minor, Op. 11, and the Etudes symphoniques, Op. 13, all enjoyed great exposure at the turn of the century. Indeed, if one looks back to recital programs between 1898 and 1920, it is hard to find a program where one of these works (or the Fantasy) was not featured by artists ranging from Emil von Sauer to Percy Grainger--along with the ubiquitous Brahms Paganini and Handel Variations.
Little more needs to be said about the Symphonic Etudes, except that Hamelin dispatches them (in the 1850's revision) with ease. I would welcome this piano-slayer to turn his attention to the Brahms sonatas or just about anything else less over-played. And, despite Hamelin's strength in the sonata, he is very clearly outclassed by Argerich. This recording contains some very nice playing, but there are far better Schumann interpretations from Pollini, Richter, Cortot and Gilels. Hopefully, we also have a lot more to forward to from Arcadi Volodos if his Bunte Blatter is any indication.
As for the Fantasy? I will continue to enjoy Jorge Bolet's reading, but it is Arnaldo Cohen on Vox who gives what is perhaps my single favorite performance of this work; one which bears out repeated listening and is beautifully recorded and eminently affordable at budget price.
I enjoyed this recording and as a fan of Hamelin I was not overly disappointed even though some weaknesses in him are finally revealed. Nice to know that he is human; after all, even Horowitz had trouble with Beethoven. In all fairness, I could live without this one but wonder if Hamelin played it all much better before a live audience.
The sonata is very fast (although close to Schumann's actual metronome marks), but the overall flow and sweep of the music is missing even though separate details and figures are impressive. This is, perhaps, most obvious in the slow movement - nothing Hamelin does here sounds ugly or hard, but the long lines are nebulous and in lack of characterization. This is not a bad version of the sonata, by no means, but it isn't entirely up there with the classics either. The Symphonic Studies are somewhat marred by the same problems - much impressive and fine playing, but the overall effect is lacking in songfulness; most importantly, perhaps, the differences in mood between the pieces are blurred, and it sounds sometimes like Hamelin is adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to these subtly varied works.
The Fantasie is better - quite so much so, in fact, that I suspect that was the main reason for recording the disc, and is certainly the main reason for acquiring it. Here Hamelin conjures smoldering power and urgent drive - it is still missing the poetry of some of the classic alternatives, but it is still an alternative that deserves to be heard. Sound quality is of course fine, but in the end - while overall by all means a very fine disc - this is not a prime choice in the repertoire.
Hamelin takes a very rhapsodic view of the sprawling first movement of the Fantasy, stressing its extremes. Somehow he holds it all together. The second movement (which can easily bog down) is remarkably well-paced, concluding with a stunning coda (there's that damn supervirtuosity again). The sonata is equally fine: the first movement comes flying off his fingers like a bat out of hell. Only the Symphonio Etudes, though a good performance, disappoints a bit. Hamelin seems to get carried away there (in the finale he sounds like he's going to break the piano). Other pianists, like Romanovsky and Geza Anda (his fabulous stereo performance) find more variety in the work.
THe sound is excellent. You can safely add this cd to your Schumann collection. Unless, of course, you're allergic to supervirtuosity.
My only reservation is that it sounds too austere and somehow it lacks colours, atmosphere and delicacy (so essential to Schumann's piano music) in all three pieces. Having said that who else can play Schumann, nowadays, with rich poetry and subtlety that match past masters like Heinrich Neuhaus or Richter who could work miracle on keybord playing Schumann?
Schumann's music really shows limitation of imagination and poor use of pedalling so characteristic of our generation of pianists who do not pay much attention to how sound decays and mixes with other notes and harmonies. To many pianists today, 'subltely' means only playing softly because their focus is only on starting point of a note they create, so their pianism lacks in depth and richness of expression no matter how hard they try to create poetry and atmosphere ( Kissin or Ashkenazy is a typical examle ).
Hamelin is no exception in this respect, but he still manages pretty well compared to other pianists. If you admire his fingures, 5 stars surely, but out of respect for Schumann's music, I give only 4.