> Kaleidoscope Marc-Andre Hamelin []: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Fritz BEHR (1837-98) Polka de W. R. (arr. Rachmaninov). Edna BENTZ WOODS Valse Phantastique. Emile-Robert BLANCHET (1877-1943) Turquie – Au jardin du vieux sérail (Andrianople), Op. 18 No. 3. Felix BLUMENFELD (1863-1931) Etude pour la main gauche seul, Op. 36. Alfredo CASELLA (1883-1947) Deux Contrastes. Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) The Seasons – Petit Adagio (arr. Hamelin). Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938) Triakontameron – No. 13, Alt Wien. Marc-André HAMELIN (b. 1961) Etudes – No. 3 (d’après Paganini); No. 6, Essercizio per pianoforte (Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti). Josef HOFMANN (1876-1957) Mignonettes – Nocturne (‘Complaint’). Charakterskizzen, Op. 40 – No. 4, Kaleidoskop. Nikolai KAPUSTIN (b. 1937) Toccatina, Op. 36. Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) Valse folle. Arthur LOURIÉ (1892-1966) Gigue. Alexander MICHALOWSKI (1851-1938) Etude d’après l’Impromptu en la bémol majeur de Fr. Chopin, Op. 29. Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925) Etude in A flat minor, Op. 72 No. 13. Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-80)/Jakob GIMPEL (1906-89) Concert paraphrase of ‘The Song of the Soldiers of the Sea’. Francis POULENC (1899-1963) Intermezzo in A flat. John VALLIER (1920-91) Toccatina.
Marc-André Hamelin (piano).
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London on February 2nd-4th, 2001. [DDD]
HYPERION CDA67275 [67.21]


Marc-André Hamelin is perhaps the most equipped pianist alive today to record an album of this sort (the only other name to spring to mind is Volodos). Its very ethos squares exactly with a pianist of Hamelin’s talents. One needs only to look at his Hyperion discography to confirm this: discs of Alkan (including the Symphony for Solo Piano on CDA67218), Busoni (the titanic Piano Concerto on CDA67143) and Scriabin (Sonatas, CDA67131/2) all act as testimony. Certainly Hamelin’s interpretations of Alkan have persuaded one, even before playing the present disc, that nothing holds any perils for him.

Here, then, is fertile ground for any pianists out there hunting for encores, although it is doubtful that any of them could bring the winning combination of musicality, flair and sheer technique which Hamelin achieves.

‘Kaleidoscope’ is the title of the disc; kaleidoscopic could aptly describe Hamelin’s playing. Some may already be familiar (Rachmaninov’s Polka de W.R. and Poulenc’s Intermezzo in A flat, for example). Others have lain in wait for an outing such as this one and yet others are fresh from Mr Hamelin’s pen.

It was a good idea to set the tone of the disc with Edna Bentz Wood’s Valse Phantastique. There are virtually no details available about this composer (hence the omission of birth and death dates from the title to this review). It is known that she was a pupil of Busoni and Petri in Berlin: her short piece aptly sets up a nostalgic mood. As is the case with Woods, the list of composers includes some better known in the early twentieth century than now, including Alfredo Casella, whose Deux Contrastes of 1916-18 are magical. The tuneful first takes Chopin’s A major Prelude as a starting point and contrasts with the wonderfully titled second, ‘Antigrazioso’, which is spiky and Stravinskian (I kept on thinking of Circus Elephants). Michalowski’s Etude after Chopin’s A flat Impromptu is treated to scintillating fingerwork (one of many examples in the recital): it is up to the listener to decide whether this Michalowski’s lightening of Chopin is appropriate (it is surely dependent on context as to whether Chopin is trivialised here). If you know that Michalowski numbered Moscheles, Reinecke and Tausig amongst his teachers and Wanda Landowska amongst his pupils, that will be some indication of the difficulty.

Hamelin knows exactly when to apply a Romantic rubato (Godowsky’s Alt Wien is adequate evidence of this) and when to ‘play it straight’ (or in the present context, ‘play it straighter’). As is fitting from a pianist with such an extensive repertoire, Hamelin has chosen items to illustrate his major strengths. Poulenc’s Intermezzo is accorded a dreamy, smooth legato while Kapustin’s Toccatina is irresistibly jazzy. Hamelin’s own Etude No. 3 after Paganini/Liszt shows off his own ability to make a piano ‘laugh’, whilst his Etude No. 6 (a homage to Domenico Scarlatti) is what can only be described as great fun: although he is careful never to forget his point of reference.

A wonderful surprise comes in the form of Massenet’s Valse folle of 1898. As Jeremy Nicholas says in his accompanying notes, ‘To those who know Massenet as the composer of Manon, Werther and the ‘Méditation’ from Thaïs, his Valse folle is the aural equivalent of being hit in the face with a brick’. Miles away from the French lyricism of these works, it contains an intentionally brash ending which obviously appeals to Hamelin.

Many, many delights are in store within this encore hunter’s treasure-trove. Careful programming and expert piano playing ensures that a straight play-through is a pleasure.

Colin Clarke


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