Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Albeniz Iberia
WORKS: Iberia; La vega; Yvonne en visite!; Espana; Souvenirs; Navarra
PERFORMER: Marc-Andre Hamelin
You can count on Marc-André Hamelin for keyboard experiences that run from scarcely believable dexterity to equally breathtaking delicacy. Among other feats his skills have enabled him to create real belief in a repertoire of dazzling, half-forgotten music. Here he is face to face with an acknowledged virtuoso masterpiece – acknowledged but elusive, because Iberia’s demands also include idiomatic feeling and great expressive power, and because many pianists do not perform it.


Hamelin again achieves the almost physically impossible with seeming ease. Albéniz’s multiple layers are finely balanced, and apparently awkward textures come to life in a lucid acoustic with pace, grace and a constant sense of dance. The most recent previous recording, by Hervé Billaut (Lyrinx), took some 14 minutes longer, four of them in one piece alone (‘Jerez’); and in that statistic are the new performance’s shortcomings as well as its virtues. Billaut can sound painstaking, but he also makes Hamelin seem lightweight in several pieces.


The dark heart of Iberia – ‘El Albaicin’ and ‘El polo’ – has more colour than edginess, more charm than pain. In faster pieces there are passages that Hamelin rattles off with more flamboyance than character. All in all that leaves the time-honoured recordings by Alicia de Larrocha still having the best of both worlds. Hamelin’s extras, where he sometimes has to be simpler and more spacious, find him at his sensitive best as in La vega or España, or his most outrageously spectacular as in Navarra, made even more over-the-top by William Bolcom’s extended completion. Robert Maycock