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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Papillons Op. 2 (1830) [14í27]
Fantasiestücke Op. 12 (1838) [28í54]
Carnaval Op. 9 (1834) [29í36]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 21 December 1999 (Carnaval) and 29-30 August 2002 (rest)
HYPERION CDA 67120 [73í29]

Here is the second instalment of Schumannís piano music from Marc-André Hamelin and Hyperion. I donít know if they intend to record any more but itís certainly nice to hear this super-virtuoso, so well known for his championship of less well-known figures, in some mainstream repertoire. This puts him immediately into competition with a host of familiar names, but Hamelin is too interesting a musician ever to ignore and there is plenty to enjoy here.

In fact, itís fair to say that Iíve got more and more out of this disc on repeated listening. Iíve found in the past that Hamelin has occasionally displayed an Argerich-like tendency to let his remarkable digital dexterity run away with him, going for breakneck speeds when they are not always necessary. Not so here. Everything is beautifully judged and Schumannís headily Romantic mix of poetry, passion, invention and virtuosity is realized to perfection. The programme itself balances out very well, with the cross-referencing of Papillons and Carnaval being offset by the darker magic of the Fantasiestücke.

Papillons contains some of the most capricious and diaphanous music the composer ever wrote. Hamelinís playing is both magisterial and mercurial, with a touch of the mischievous thrown in. The aptly grand, rhetorical gestures of, say, track 3 are beautifully balanced by the prestissimo fleetness of track 10 and the nostalgic reminiscing of track 12. He can also grade his tone so that muscular fortes dissolve into almost imperceptible whispers before our ears.

Fantasiestücke starts very slowly, but Hamelin maintains tension and ultimately displays a masterly control of ebb and flow, a difficult balancing act in this music. He weaves a chimerical magic here, capturing moods that reflect the composerís delicate inspiration. Warum? (track16) has the feeling of dialogue, Hamelinís musings achieving improvisatory freedom. He points up the unexpected harmonic shift in Ende vom Lied (track 21) which wistfully reflects the opening and brings the work full circle.

Hamelin is able to show his full range of keyboard skill in Carnaval, Schumannís great series of tableaux in which one character after another takes centre-stage. Hamelin is a big personality and is not afraid to display it. The opening Préambule is more imperious than Barenboim (DG, a real bargain) and all the various movements are by turns fervent, sparkling and utterly convincing. I particularly love Schumannís tribute to Chopin (track 33) where Hamelinís rubato makes me long to hear him in this composerís music.

Itís a well filled, well planned disc thatís beautifully recorded and annotated. Itís been in the Ďcaní for some time now Ė indeed, Carnaval was apparently tagged on to spare recording time from the sessions that formed Hamelinís first disc. No matter, itís here now and can be got online for less the ten pounds, virtually mid-price. Yes, thereís competition aplenty from Richter, Perahia, Argerich, Lupu, Michelangeli etc in individual works, but from what I can see of the catalogue, Hyperionís programme is unique and no-one who loves Schumann and acquires this disc will be disappointed.

Tony Haywood

 

 



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