Hamelin: 12 Etudes in all the minor keys

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COMPOSERS: Hamelin
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: 12 Études in all the minor keys; Little Nocturne; Con intimissimo sentimento – selections; Theme and Variations (Cathy’s Variations)
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67789

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Marc-André Hamelin’s etudes for piano (12 in all the minor keys) have circulated privately among pianists for decades, and Hamelin himself has recorded a few previously, but now Hyperion offers the definitive collection, with the scores published simultaneously by Peters.

Several of them are based on works by some of the many composer-pianists Hamelin has done so much to champion: a rather impossible blending of three Chopin etudes (inspired by a lost attempt of Godowsky’s), a densely contrapuntal setting of La campanella, and a breezy mélange of works by Alkan.

We also have some hilarious yet affectionate sendups of Rossini and Scarlatti, along with a Toccata grottesca that Hamelin realised after its completion was based on a pre-existing work, the name of which Hamelin in his otherwise expansive booklet notes refuses to divulge. (I hear the finale of Kreisleriana, but I am prepared to be humbled if wrong.)

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Happily, Hamelin’s original etudes, such as the debonair Minuetto, as well as the character pieces that round out the disc, with their blend of tasteful lyricism and striking textures and harmonies, are as enjoyable as his homages. While brashly flaunting his influences (Gershwin, Poulenc, Rachmaninov), he sounds utterly individual. Of course, the composer makes all the technical difficulties sound easy to play in these vividly recorded performances. Howard Goldstein