Chopin, Godowsky, Wagner/Liszt, Verdi/Liszt, Antheil, Sciarrino, Debussy

COMPOSERS: Antheil,Chopin,Debussy,Godowsky,Sciarrino,Verdi/Liszt,Wagner/Liszt
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Marc-Andre Hamelin: It’s All about the Music
WORKS: Works by Chopin, Godowsky, Wagner/Liszt,Verdi/Liszt, Antheil, Sciarrino andDebussy
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DVDA 68000
Marc-André Hamelin is something

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of a phenomenon: one of the few pianists alive who can get his fingers round Godowsky’s finger-breaking reworkings of the Chopin Etudes with such ease that they come across not as a circus act, but as music. So a DVD devoted to his art should, in theory, be interesting.

Like most DVDs, this contains a variety of goodies, including a documentary film which begins with short clips of Hamelin playing Frederic Rzewski and Schubert, before getting to grips with that undersung keyboard hero Nicolai Medtner, whom Hamelin champions. But the film’s focus constantly shifts: from Hamelin’s (moderately interesting) musical origins, to Medtner’s undeserved obscurity, to a book which a Canadian academic has written about pianist-composers. Suddenly we are in the study of that venerable Scottish warhorse Ronald Stevenson (who composes with an outsize quill), and finding what he has to say more interesting than anything else so far. Then it’s back to Hamelin for more snatches of this and that. The questions that he faces in front of the camera are cosily unprobing: strictly for the fans.

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Then we get the ‘recital’, in which Hamelin comes superbly into his own, playing Liszt, Godowsky, and his own arrangements with immaculately expressive control. Unfortunately, however, we also cut repeatedly to a French-Canadian professor extolling Hamelin in a tone that is somewhat reminiscent of Stephen Hawking’s synthesised voice. At the end of the documentary, we wind up with yet more interviews, which, with one shining exception, are nothing other than numbingly superfluous. What a mess. Michael Church