Marc-André HAMELIN (b.1961)
Twelve Études in all the keys (1986-2008) [50:20]
Little Nocturne (2007) [2:15]
from Con intimissimo sentimento (1986-2000) – Landler I [2:21]: Album Leaf [2:12]: Music Box [2:00]: After Pergolesi [3:49]: Berceuse (in tempore belli) [2:34]
Theme and Variations (Cathy’s Variations) (2007) [10:37]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
rec. November 2009 Concert Hall, Wyastone, Monmouth except, January 1998, EMI Abbey Road Studio No.1 London (Études 9, 10), May 2009, St George’s Brandon Hill, Bristol (Little Nocturne), August 2008, Henry Wood Hall, London (Con intimissimo sentimento)
HYPERION CDA67789 [76:10]

If you are an exceptionally keen follower of Hamelin you will know that two of the cycle of Études have been previously released before by Hyperion; Nos. 9 and 10 were on CDA67050. The rest of this disc derives from sessions taped in 2008 and 2009. The results are remarkable examples of a composer-executant operating at super voltage but also, where necessary, revealing his softer side.

The primary, though not exclusive, interest in this disc resides in the Twelve Études in all the keys, written between 1986 and 2008. These quirky, astonishing, outrageous and ear-titillating pieces present a modern day Alkan or Godowsky in the full lava flow of riotous digital and imaginative invention. Where to start? Maybe with the first, in A minor, a three-in-one, thus Triple Etude after Chopin, which takes three of that composer’s Etudes, runs them together, and exercises contrapuntal feats second to none. How does the composer-executant do it? You’d have to ask him. He embraces the Paganini-Liszt La Campanella for the third, in B minor, where playful virtuosity soon becomes jaw-dropping in its extremity. Hamelin visits Alkan for his interweaving and combination of two of that composer’s own Études. We soon come to a mystery as No.5, the Toccata grottesca, is based on a ‘not...terribly well-known work’ and Hamelin isn’t giving any clues beyond saying that ‘someone with a sufficiently broad knowledge of the piano literature might recognize it.’ He does seem to provide a musical clue – is that Vltava floating about in the bass? - so maybe we are in the Czech Lands. Not one of the Dvorák Humoresques?

The brilliantly witty Scarlatti Etude evokes, but doesn’t quote, the eminent predecessor whilst Erlkönig is a gauntly powerful narrative, with nothing to do with the Schubert lied. No.10, after Chopin, takes a distorted view of the Black Key Étude. The Prelude and Fugue rounds off a cycle not meant to be played in concert as a set, though Hamelin has done so. This brilliant collection offers a rich tapestry of influences and virtuosic demands. Let’s hope others embrace these challenges with something of the brio that their heroic composer does.

We also have a selection from Con intimissimo sentimento which includes a setting of Pergolesi’s decidedly Old School song (Nina) and an Album Leaf with richly interesting harmonic drift. Then we have the delightful Theme and Variations (Cathy’s Variations) written in 2007, a love token of great tenderness and real charm.

It means the disc is balanced between richly characterful Etudes and more intimately shaped fare. Needless to say the composer plays everything with dazzling control and he’s been sumptuously recorded.

Jonathan Woolf

Richly characterful, played with dazzling control and sumptuously recorded.