Friday, 21 January 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2011)

Marc-André Hamelin, Piano
Hyperion 67789

Franz Liszt wrote Transcendental Études catered to his own inimitable brand of virtuosity, not for mere mortals. Similarly, Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin throws down the gauntlet in his 12 Études In All The Minor Keys. The final Étude No.12 (Prelude & Fugue) is already well known, having performed it in Singapore as far back as 1997.

A number are re-definitions of pre-existing works, including impossibly wicked takes on La Campanella (Paganini-Liszt), La Danza (Rossini) Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby Op.16 No.1 (arranged for left hand) and the infamous Triple Étude, a contrapuntal feat combining three of Chopin’s Études. The latter is only surpassed by Étude No.4, which reaps the whirlwind with two even more fearsome Alkan Études. Some are completely original new works - Coma Berenices (No.2), Toccata Grottesca (No.4), Erlkönig (No.8) and Minuetto (No.9). All require piano technique of a superior kind, and it is interesting to play “guess the influence”

Hamelin shows a softer side in his Little Nocturne and Con Intimissimo Sentimento, a suite of miniatures which reveal a penchant for fantasy, gentle chromaticism and jazz. Cathy’s Variations, dedicated to his fiancée, is an elegant tribute to the finale of Beethoven’s Sonata Op.109, itself a set of variations. Hamelin’s playing is one of a kind, befitting one of the most amazing piano discs of all time.

BACH Cello Suite No.1, 4 & 5

It is not too far-fetched to imagine Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Cello Suites being performed on a viola. There is a school of thought that Bach originally wrote these works for a violoncello piccolo, a smaller instrument slung around the neck and bowed across the chest, which would have sounded much like a viola.

These viola transcriptions by Simon Rowland-Jones take nothing away from the cello originals. The fast rising young Russian violist Maxim Rysanov plays with little vibrato but the sonorous polyphonic quality of the music comes through gloriously. Whether in the exercise-like Preludes, otherworldly slow Sarabandes - where time virtually stands still – or the lively dance movements, this is aural heaven. No more viola jokes, the second volume of Bach’s suites are keenly awaited.


prickofdeath said...

Hello Dr Chang, I note your review on Marc-Andre and the Lee Wei Qin CD. I havent been able to locate the disks in the local shops or at iTunes. Can you pls point me to where you get your disks?

Sun Whye Mun

Chang Tou Liang said...

Dear Whye Mun

Both Marc-André Hamelin's Études and Li-Wei Qin's Beethoven cello sonatas are both available at HMV (try the Somerset branch which has a wider range). You can also ask them to place an order for you. My other source of CDs is the MDT Classics website, possibly UK's best online retailer.

prickofdeath said...

Hello Dr Chang

Many thanks for your response. Thus far, your recommendations have served me very well.

Best Rgds and Happy Lunar New Year
Sun Whye Mun