Notes and Editorial Reviews
Simply, subtly sublime: Marc-André Hamelin's Chopin is up there with the very best
After recent notable recordings of particularly exuberant fare, from Alkan to Antheil, Marc-André Hamelin returns to more mainstream territory with this Chopin traversal. Yet, from a musician known for virtuosity, there is nothing remotely flashy here, hardly an accent that does not seem part of a natural emotional progression. Indeed, these are deeply considered and most affecting readings. One would expect nothing less.
-- Gramophone [2/2009]
Who else but Marc-André Hamelin can open an all-Chopin recital with the gentle
Berceuse and get away with it? The pianist quickly puts listeners in his confidence with his pearly legato, impeccable balances between hands, and discerning rubatos. Perahia and Kempff may boast more tonal shimmer, yet Hamelin impresses just the same.
Fourteen years after recording the B-flat minor sonata for the Canadian Port Royal label, Hamelin has rethought his interpretation. Notice his more assertive brio and clearer articulation of the opening movement's first theme and development section. Hamelin doesn't contrast the second subject to the lyrical extremes many pianists favor, yet his extraordinary precision and harmonic parsing of the chords in triplets are enough to humble the greatest Chopin practitioners, living or dead. However, the Scherzo has acquired self-aware tenutos and phrase distensions that unfavorably contrast to the more direct, demonic thrust Grimaud and Freire convey. Although the famous slow movement sounds closer to a dirge than a march, I must credit Hamelin's unflappable rhythmic control and perfectly contoured trills. You'd expect a super virtuoso of Hamelin's caliber to nail the Finale's gnarly unisons at a true Presto, but his broader pace allows for more creative exploration of inner melodies and syncopated accents. I only wish Hamelin had not made an ever-so-slight pause before the penultimate low B-flat, but at least he doesn't stretch so far as Rachmaninov or Horowitz.
Both Op. 27 Nocturnes stand out for floating cantilenas and beautifully shaped left-hand accompaniments that seemingly emerge from two different instruments. Hamelin's Barcarolle falls short of Rubinstein's tenderness and warmth, yet the pianistic refinement and polyphonic clarity cannot be disparaged. The B minor sonata exhibits finesse and mindfulness in nearly every measure. In particular, Hamelin's strong sense of form and textural cohesion hits home in the difficult-to-sustain Largo. The outer movements find Hamelin toning down perfectly executed bravura passages in order to emphasize important motives or shape moving bass lines, yet never at the expense of power and urgency. My only quibble concerning Hamelin's proficiently groomed Scherzo is that he never plays softly enough. While Hamelin's versions of these oft-recorded works probably will not displace your favorites, it's clear that his seriously considered efforts on Chopin's behalf more than just rise to the occasion.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Nocturnes (2) for Piano, Op. 27 by Frédéric Chopin
Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
Written: 1835; Paris, France
Length: 11 Minutes 13 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Piano Sonata no 2 "Funeral March": I. Grave - Doppio movimento
Nocturne for Piano, op 27 no 2
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