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.
Since winning the Silver Medal and the Krystian Zimerman Sonata award at the 2015 Chopin Piano Competition, Montreal and Quebec at large have been gaga – for good reason – over Charles Richard-Hamelin. Recorded live in concert this past May at Salle Raoul-Jobin of the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City, this album may begin conservatively with Beethoven’s Two Rondos for Piano, Op. 51, but takes a turn with George Enescu’s Second Suite, Op. 10. With the Enescu, Richard-Hamelin digresses from clinical Classicism into the Romanian composer’s grandiose late-Romantic chromaticism. Even in a live recording, Richard-Hamelin shows not only acute elegance and poise, but extreme precision and a heightened emotional sensibility.