Busoni: Piano Concerto

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano); CBSO & Chorus/Mark Elder
Vol. 22 in Hyperion’s exploration of ‘The Romantic Piano Concerto’ addresses one of the most gargantuan works ever devised, Ferruccio Busoni’s 5-movement, 70-minute epic of 1903-04. Scored for piano, augmented orchestra, and (in the finale) male chorus, this leviathan places intolerable demands on any soloist.


Gathering what I could of the rival field in advance of hearing Marc-André Hamelin’s thrilling new traversal, limited competition wasn’t surprising. With John Ogdon’s pioneering EMI account and Peter Donohoe’s live 1988 ‘Prom’ performance (also EMI) both deleted, Volker Banfield (CPO) and Garrick Ohlsson (Telarc) stayed in the frame.


Hitherto, I’d have recommended Ohlsson; his pianism is exemplary, while the Cleveland Orchestra and Christoph von Dohnanyi provide attentive support. But Hamelin’s performance never once falters, and his highly concentrated style demands (and sustains) the listener’s fullest attention throughout a work which doesn’t always live up to the sum of its parts. The CBSO under Mark Elder sound every wit as majestic as Dohnanyi’s Clevelanders, though Hyperion’s recording (from Birmingham’s acoustically endowed Symphony Hall) is even more detailed and spacious than Telarc’s high-tech production. Finally, where Ohlsson’s admirable preparedness leaves nothing much to chance in this unforgiving score, Hamelin often lives right on the edge… and survives! Michael Jameson