Liszt • Thalberg
Transcriptions and fantasies on themes from operas by Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Hyperion CDA68320 74:22 mins
Thalberg was born in 1812, the year after Liszt. From an early age he revealed incredible pianistic gifts, and inevitably comparisons were made between the two piano tigers. I remember Hollywood films in which the actors battled it out, seeing who could play double octaves the faster, with Liszt triumphant but magnanimous.
Like Liszt, Thalberg was also a composer, though his reputation hardly survived his death. On this disc Marc André Hamelin plays examples of them both doing what audiences most enjoyed, arranging melodies from popular contemporary operas, especially of the bel canto school. Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini were wildly popular all over Europe, but there were comparatively few opportunities to see their operas, partly because there were few singers who could meet their vocal demands, and partly because there were not all that many opera houses. So Liszt, Thalberg and others arranged them for piano, and as there were no singers to dazzle, audiences were supplied by ever more elaborate and difficult piano showpieces, with rapid double octaves played fortissimo and unbelievably scintillating scales despatched with abandon. More of an Olympic activity than an artistic one, but one could say the same about many of Handel’s operas. Anyway, Hamelin thoroughly enjoys himself, surely giving as good as he would have got.