LABELS: Music & Arts
WORKS: Réminiscences de Norma; La leggierezza; Un sospiro; Polonaise No. 2; Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude; Réminiscences de Don Juan
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-723 Reissue (1991)
If you want to hear how Hamelin played before he became a byword for keyboard virtuosity and shrewd Hyperion signed him up exclusively, then this programme will provide you with the answer. Recorded in 1991 (the date also of the booklet, which has not been changed in any way since the disc was first issued in 1992), the performances transcend the studio environment. Every problem has been solved with glittering ease; indeed, the greater the difficulties, the more it provokes Hamelin into providing ever more transparent and thrilling responses. Sensibly, he never digs deeper than the music merits, yet, nevertheless, what can seem glib and theatrical in other hands here sounds important and weighty.
There is not a recording of the Norma fantasy to match this one. Bolet, magisterial and powerful, plods home a full four minutes after Hamelin, whose ecstatic delivery of the closing theme from the opera is incredibly moving – goose bumps, spine tingles, the lot. By contrast, La leggierezza demonstrates Hamelin’s phenomenal dexterity at pianissimo, Bénédiction de Dieu his innate understanding of and empathy with the Abbé. In the Don Juan Réminiscences (given with the usual cut before the final presto section) Hamelin is simply electrifying, summoning up the spirit of Simon Barere but with far more accurate and detailed attention to the score. Even those who find barnstorming Liszt unbearably trivial and vulgar must surely acknowledge the extraordinary pianism of the then 30-year old Canadian. Jeremy Nicholas