Ives, Barber

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Barber,Ives
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 2 (Concord); Piano Sonata
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano), Jaime Martin (flute)
Charles Ives’s massive Concord Sonata has been well served on disc this year, the 50th anniversary of his death. Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s magisterial account on Warner has the bonus of Susan Graham in a generous group of songs (reviewed in Choral & Song in June). Steven Mayer’s Naxos performance (reviewed in August) is by no means negligible, and has some fascinating and relevant couplings. Now comes Marc-André Hamelin, with the most spectacular pianism of all, yet placed firmly at the service of the music. He’s consistently faster than his rivals whenever a speeding-up is indicated, but always maintains crispness of rhythm and an almost miraculously clear layering of textures; and the poetry of the slower passages is intensified by the heightened contrast. The piano is well maintained and recorded, and Jaime Martin’s flute is placed at just the right distance in the finale. Reviewing the Mayer, I described Aimard’s recording as ‘of unmatchable vividness and panache’; but I must now transfer both the description and my recommendation to Hamelin. Samuel Barber’s virtuoso Sonata benefits equally not only from Hamelin’s technical brilliance, but also from his pianistic imagination – for example in the subtle misalignment of the hands which conveys the dragging sadness of the slow movement. With the recording by the Barber specialist John Browning hard to track down in the UK, the obvious comparison is with Leon McCawley on his all-Barber Virgin disc. As with the rival Concord Sonatas, this is first- rate in itself, and the programme will be more useful to some collectors. But Hamelin’s playing is again something very special. Anthony Burton