While Hamelin's technique is superhuman and magisterial, there is never a question of virtuosity for its own sake. The rapidity of Hamelin's repeated notes in the sun-drenched Tarantella is scarcely believable, his poetic poise and noble refinement elsewhere no less notable. Even so, pride of place must go to the Sonata, where Hamelin tempers Liszt's rhetoric with a measure of dignity and restraint. In short, this is a pianist to trump all aces.
– Gramophone [5/2011]
Pianist Marc-André Hamelin's unprecedented technical acumen, huge sonority, and unflappable control of the piano is everywhere evidentRead more in this Liszt recital, along with new-found reserves of passion and freedom. Listen to the minute inflections of phrase and changes of color that imbue the Bénédiction's middle section with gorgeous cantabiles and subtle harmonic pointing. To hear the B-A-C-H Fantasie and Fugue's taxing two-handed arpeggios and gnarly counterpoint executed with stupefying ease and white-hot intensity is better experienced than described, to say nothing of the high-octane bass lines and staggeringly precise chord playing. Venezia e Napoli's three pieces are beyond belief insofar as Hamelin's multi-calibrated nuances and transcendental technique. Just sample the Tarantella's rapid two-handed alternating chords, rapid runs, and inhumanly even repeated notes, and you'll hear what I mean.
While the B minor sonata is relatively new to Hamelin's repertoire, his well paced and intelligently proportioned interpretation suggests that the pianist has thoroughly internalized, digested, and pondered over the score. In the Allegro energico he applies just enough of a tenuto to make the marcato repeated-note motive's rhetorical point, and he consistently does so as the motive reappears over the sonata's course. The following agitato section doesn't quite match Arrau's urgency and pointed articulation, yet notice how Hamelin inserts a strategic diminuendo at the start of the octave passage from which the music can build more effectively.
He creates characterful contrast in the lyrical D major theme by giving the right-hand theme its espressivo due, while playing the left-hand triplet melodic "answers" in strict tempo. In the Andante sostenuto's central section, Hamelin's vibrant climaxes fill the room without a trace of tonal harshness or banging, and his steady deliberation in the fughetta allows one to better absorb the counterpoint's dense chromaticism, as well as providing an insidious transition into the aforementioned agitato section's recapitulation. All of these details and more add up to a consistently absorbing and fulfilling Liszt Sonata. Piano lovers cannot afford to miss this extraordinary and beautifully engineered release.