To the uninitiated it is hard to describe the musical world of the American composer Frederic Rzewski. A pianist himself, Rzewski initially made a name for himself as a champion of the avant-garde, performing everything from Cage to Boulez. In the '70s his own music took a much more populist turn as his political beliefs drove him to find a much more approachable language, basically tonal and incorporating much quotation from popular music. It is music of this period that is recorded here.
Like the legendary pianists of the 19th and early 20th century, such as Sigismund Thalberg, Franz Liszt, Leopold Godowsky, and Ignace Jan Paderewski, it often sounds as if Marc-André Hamelin has more than 10 fingers. His ability to play fiendishly difficult music, make it sound as if it's a stroll in the park, yet imbue it with musical sensitivity makes him worthy of the description "super-virtuoso" by The New York Times' Harold Schoenberg. Hamelin studied at the Vincent d'Indy School of Music in Montréal with Yvonne Hubert, a pupil of Cortot, then received bachelor's and master's degrees at Temple University, working under Russell Sherman and Harvey Weeden.
The peerless Takacs Quartet recently nominated for a Gramophone award for their second disc of Brahms's string quartets, continue their exploration of the Romantic chamber music tradition with this disc of Schumann. The Piano Quintet is by far Schumann's most popular chamber work and one of the most beloved works in the genre. Schumann was the first romantic composer to pair the piano with the string quartet. Schumann studied the string quartets of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn and his quartet Op. 41 No. 3 demonstrates these influences. However, it contains many highly original strokes, particularly the casting of the scherzo as a set of variations. The Takacs Quartet are joined by Marc-Andre Hamelin in an invigorating partnership that has already been widely acclaimed on the concert platform.
Franck’s Piano Quintet and Debussy’s String Quartet make an apt and unusual coupling, each work its composer’s only, unsurpassable, contribution to the genre. Both receive authoritative performances from Marc-André Hamelin and the Takács Quartet.
Fête Galante, a 1999 release featuring soprano Karina Gauvin and pianist Marc-André Hamelin, won numerous awards, and the outstanding performances on this 2011 reissue confirm how well-deserved those honors were. Gauvin has an exceptional voice – clarion-bright, warm, confident, and agile, with a variegated palette of colors – and her effortlessly incisive interpretive skills give depth and life to everything she sings. The distinctiveness and character she brings to these songs show a terrific grasp of the genre of the mélodie, from the late 19th century songs by Fauré and the young Debussy to the mid-20th works by Poulenc, Honegger, and Émile Vuillermoz. The CD demonstrates her range with the zany comedy of Poulenc's "Paganini" followed immediately by the intensely poignant multi-layered sadness of the composer's profound "C." Throughout, Gauvin's tone is ravishingly pure and she soars gloriously in the more lyrical songs.
Hamelin's combination of fleet-fingered delicacy and compelling drive suit Schumann's aesthetic ideally; but best of all is his gleeful sense of storytelling. He brings the masked ball guests in Papillons and Carnaval to life with the deft vividness of an award-winning film director.
This year, April is Hamelin month at Hyperion; not content with giving us another blockbuster addition to the Romantic Piano Concerto series, the pianist gives us his contribution to the Liszt bicentenary. The Liszt Sonata is undoubtedly one of the peaks of the repertoire, and recordings are suitably copious, but when an artist of Hamelin’s virtuoso pedigree wishes to tackle it no excuse need be made for an additional version. The recital opens with a lesser-known masterwork, the Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H, and for light relief there is Liszt’s scintillating supplement to his Italian Année de Pèlerinage, the three pieces of Venezia e Napoli, but perhaps the emotional core of the recital is Liszt’s intensely spiritual Bénédiction du Dieu dans la solitude.
Marc-André Hamelin has proved himself—in three lauded volumes of Haydn’s piano sonatas—to be a formidable Haydn pianist, combining style, exuberance and dazzling technique with a palpable sense of joy in the music. Now he has recorded the composer’s three most popular concertos.
Alkan's one of music's originals, a relatively neglected composer valued for his highly original, often visionary keyboard works accessible only to the most skilled virtuosos. Marc-André Hamelin certainly fills that bill and almost outdoes himself on this disc, playing with breathtaking virtuosity and imaginative insight. The Symphony for solo piano is just a four-movement work of symphonic scope and color. The Symphony was part of an even bigger work, the Opus 39 Études, whose 12 pieces include Alkan's best music. The three brief pieces that follow have strong attractions, deep spirituality prime among them. The final three pieces from his early Opus 15 set exemplify Alkan the Romantic. Again, Hamelin makes light of their technical difficulties, while shaping them sensitively. Notable are Le vent, where the right-hand runs make you hear the whistling wind and Morte, another powerful funeral march.