MARC-ANDRE HAMELIN: Etudes in all the minor keys; Con intimissimo sentimento; Theme and Variations ‘Cathy’s Variations’ – Hyperion

by | Sep 26, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MARC-ANDRE HAMELIN:  Etudes in all the minor keys; Con intimissimo sentimento; Theme and Variations ‘Cathy’s Variations’ – Hyperion CDA67789 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]; 76:10 *****:

Marc-André Hamelin is one of today’s finest pianists with a host of nearly unplayable scores in his repertoire and aired in concert and on disc.  After recording Alkan, Godowsky and Kapustin, to name but three, it is also a pleasure to welcome this new recording of his Etudes in all the minor keys.

Written over a period of nearly twenty-five years, the études have been featuring in Hamelin’s concerts either in small groups or as encores, and since the last was completed in 2009, and others revised, the whole cycle has been eagerly awaited and expected on disc.  And here they are!  Those who have heard some of these in concert will know they are not just empty display pieces for a virtuoso to show off his dexterity.  Their appeal is in the wit and humour, and the homage to composer-pianists of long-ago and there is gentleness as well as fireworks on show.  Sample the third of these – after Paganini-Liszt – to hear the depth in the writing.  The seventh, for the left-hand, is inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby and needs expert pedal operation to have its restful legato put across.  The eighth is inspired by Goethe’s Erlkönig (not Schubert’s setting) and impresses enormously in its tale-telling.

The writing is contemporary and remains tonal and satisfies on several levels – for adventurous readers and players, the score can be had from Edition Peters.  

In addition to the 50 minutes set of études is the charming “Little Nocturne” written in response to the magazine “Clavier”,  the pianistically simpler “Con intimissimo sentimento” which are more reflective in feeling and, to end the recital, the Theme and Variations ‘Cathy’s Variations’ written in love for the composer’s fiancée, Cathy Fuller.

Recording quality on standard CD is excellent.  The selection here was set down in four different locations, mostly recently, the exception being the ninth and tenth études which derive from 1998, but the sound is uniform throughout;  the 1998 session was held at Abbey Road Studio 1, recorded by Simon Rhodes, and the remainder all recorded by Simon Eadon, and the whole release produced by Andrew Keener. Most of the études were recorded in the rich-sounding concert hall at the Wyastone Estate, home of Nimbus, yet all the detail sparkles through unhindered by too much acoustic. [Because they weren’t recorded Ambisonically and played back two-channel without decoding…Ed.]

This collection of Marc-André Hamelin, composer-pianist, is enthusiastically welcomed.  It’s been spinning on my player for weeks with much pleasure.

12 Études in all the minor keys

1 No 1 in A minor Triple Étude, after Chopin [2’15]
2 No 2 in E minor Coma Berenices [2’51]
3 No 3 in B minor after Paganini-Liszt [4’59]
4 No 4 in C minor Étude à mouvement perpétuellement semblable, after Alkan [3’59]
5 No 5 in G minor Toccata grottesca [4’38]
6 No 6 in D minor Esercizio per pianoforte, Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti [3’31]
7 No 7 in E flat minor after Tchaikovsky, for the left hand alone [5’01]
8 No 8 in B flat minor Erlkönig, after Goethe [4’44]
9 No 9 in F minor after Rossini [3’48]
10 No 10 in F sharp minor after Chopin [2’01]
11 No 11 in C sharp minor Minuetto [6’27]
12 No 12 in A flat minor Prelude and Fugue [6’09]

13 Little Nocturne [2’15]
Con intimissimo sentimento
14 No 1: Ländler I [2’21]
15 No 4: Album Leaf [2’12]
16 No 5: Music Box [2’00]
17 No 6: After Pergolesi [3’49]
18 No 7: Berceuse, in tempore belli [2’34]
Theme and Variations ‘Cathy’s Variations’
19 Theme Con semplicità, eleganza e tenerezza [1’55]
20 Variation 1 Più mosso, corrente [1’06]
21 Variation 2 L’istesso tempo, ma cantabile [1’28]
22 Variation 3 Molto più moderato, poco rubato [2’55]
23 Variation 4 Poco animato ma cantabile e senza prestezza [1’40]
24 Envoi – A capriccio [1’33]

— Peter Joelson

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