Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hamelin revisits Alkan’s Concerto and the result is jaw-dropping.
This is Marc-André Hamelin’s second recording of the Alkan Concerto for Solo Piano (the first for Music & Arts dates from 1992 – 8/93) and his fifth Alkan CD for Hyperion. Yet following in the pioneering footsteps of Raymond Lewenthal and, more particularly, Ronald Smith, Hamelin now trumps his previous ace with a performance of the Concerto of such brilliance and lucidity that one can only listen in awe and amazement. Scaling even the most ferocious hurdles with yards to spare, he is blessedly free to explore the very heart of Alkan’s bewildering interplay of austerity and monstrous elaboration. In the gigantic first movement you can hear
avalanches of notes, at, for example, 3'55" and 8'06", given with the rarest focus and trenchancy. And whether you turn to the finale’s helter-skelter pages (with their curious Eastern underpinnings) or the baleful central Adagio, you can only marvel at such a unique mix of blazing if nonchalantly deployed virtuosity and poetic conviction.
For his substantial encore Hamelin gives us Alkan’s Troisième recueil de chants where outward convention vies with that sinister and pervasive oddity so central to this composer’s nature. No 3 is a near bitonal canon, No 4 a polonaise with memories of the Etudes from which the Concerto is drawn and a crazy, race-away coda, while the concluding Barcarolle contains ironic echoes of Liszt’s Au lac de Wallenstadt.
All this is superbly recorded and presented, prompting some not unreasonable conjecture: if Liszt feared Alkan’s mastery as a pianist he may well have feared Hamelin’s.
-- Bryce Morrison, Gramophone [Awards 2007]
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