52,943 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  


Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Iberia – Books I – IV (1905-08) [82.15]
La vega (1897) [16.00]
Yvonne en visite! (1909) [6.28]
España; Souvenirs (1897) [12.18]
Navarra (1909) – completed by William Bolcom (b.1938) [8.40]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London, April and August 2004
HYPERION CDA 67476-77 [62.01 + 63.56]


Often portrayed as one of the leading klaviertigers of our day, a musician of nonchalantly unflappable brilliance and superhuman technical security, Hamelin’s sensitivity is apt to be overlooked. Well then, let’s start here. Here’s an Iberia rich in poetic response, rich in colour and incident; not short on wit or quick humour either. It’s played with all the sweep and clarity we have come to expect from Hamelin and is illuminated with his special brand of architectural understanding.

One could instance Evocación with its languorous Francophile shimmer, splendidly weighted, a touch aloof; quite relaxed as well and slow-ish. His great gift here is the sense of weightlessness he conveys through the most acute arm weight and touch. Invariably comparisons come from de Larrocha and her multiple recordings of Iberia. Her playing here is that much more insistent, more tactile – and more animated. In El Puerto he’s a touch quicker than she is; his sound is more cushioned as well, not as hard, and his dynamics register more equably, as does his subtle rubati. Whether you will prefer his more temperate view is a matter of taste; I do like the visceral de Larrocha imagination, which is never afraid to embrace the brittle and the transient – qualities that apply equally in El Corpus en Sevilla. If one responds to her greater sense of the theatrical and flourish you will find her more immediate here, though his rhythm is buoyant. Book II reflects the same dichotomies in performance when it comes to touch though not always tempo. De Larrocha is generally more direct, maybe not as detailed textually (as in Almería) as Hamelin, whose playing can sound just a mite perfumed when measured against her relative gauntness in forte passages.

In El Albaicín she is imposing, grand, imperial, and rather drier than Hamelin. And there’s really very little between them in those lustrous right hand roulades, though the sound Hamelin has been accorded is very much warmer than in any of de Larrocha’s recordings. In El polo he evinces tremendous amplitude and style; in comparison de Larrocha tends to be more vertical and to go in for less expressive shading and colouration though there’s still plenty of teeming life from both pianists. We got a mollifying Lavapiés from Hamelin; rhythms are smoother than the competition, less biting and less austere; he wears lighter colours than de Larrocha’s darker garbed performance. He’s a touch impatient in Málaga but uses rubati with distinction; colour and tonal shading are everywhere in evidence and a powerfully propulsive sense too in the left hand. In Jerez we find different interpretative viewpoints with Hamelin taking a decidedly more brooding line with the music. And in the concluding Eritaña we find their playing once more takes a divided path between relatively lush vegetation – Hamelin – and more prickly gorse, de Larrocha. She uses less pedal, is crisper in articulation, drier in sound, and can force through fortes sometimes. He’s clearly more romanticised and his technique is seldom at all compromised, as hers occasionally can be, by the gargantuan demands that this music makes. So these are two very differing, complementary Iberia performances representing differing traditions and lineage. For a romanticised and relatively brittle-free traversal Hamelin’s is mightily impressive - textually warm, burnished and brilliantly played. It’s not the only way of performing Iberia – but it’s a powerfully convincing way.

This is a two-disc set and so Hamelin gives us more Albéniz. The most remarkable is the 1897 La vega which opens with – and sustains – a rapt, devastating simplicity over the span of its entire sixteen-minute length, interspersed as it is with a powerful rhythmic charge. This is magical musicianship. Hamelin shows his droll side in Yvonne en visite! with is naughty evocation of a stumbling pianist and he’s every bit as evocative and colour drenched in Espana: Souvenirs as he proved to be in Iberia itself. A final pleasure; William Bolcom’s completion of Navarra - which is more complex than the usually encountered Séverac edition.

Splendid notes and, as I’ve indicated, warm recorded sound complete an auspicious and very welcome disc.

Jonathan Woolf

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.