I’ve long been a fan of pianist Marc-André Hamelin (1961-), not only due to his artistry, but also because of his advocacy for performance of “fringe” repertoire. As a champion of these neglected composers, Hamelin’s recordings released under the Hyperion label, have enabled me and others to experience this music. However, when I attended a recital by him in 2003, it was interesting that he chose to perform “mainstream” repertoire, such as works from Mozart, Schumann, Szymanowski and Albeniz, with an encore by Debussy. Still, I had no complaints, as his performances were wonderful across the board.
Hamelin throws his own hat into the ring with this CD of “12 Etudes,” all of which are in minor keys, as well as other less technically demanding pieces. These pieces were composed during a period from 1986 to 2009, and some of them are revisions of earlier incarnations. This disc places him in the line of talented composer-pianists, and is the first CD devoted entirely to his own compositions.
Hamelin holds his own quite well.
Released during 2010, the bulk of this 76-minute disc consisted of the aforementioned Etudes. Around the same time, the noted publishing firm of C.F. Peters published the scores of these works. I was therefore able to check out the scores from the library and follow along, while listening to these 12 pieces. Actually, I followed along as well as I could, as it was easy to get lost amid the profusion of notes!
It’s not surprising that these amazing Etudes are for “super virtuosi” pianists, showcasing the talents of the artists (in this case, Hamelin’s) and the piano, in all of their glory. They also work well as “music.” Again and again, Hamelin has proven that he is the “real deal,” when composing effectively for his instrument.
Seven of the pieces are homages to other composers, such as Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Gioachino Rossini, and others. Hamelin uses their works as springboards. The other five Etudes are original compositions.
The opening Etude, a “Triple Etude (after Chopin) in A Minor,” is in the grand tradition of pianist, composer and pedagogue, Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938). Hamelin has also recorded Godowsky’s own set of studies on Chopin’s Etudes, which were released under the Hyperion record label. As the title suggests, it combines three of Chopin’s Etudes into one “Super Etude,” which must be heard to be believed. In fact, the same could be said for just about all of the 12 Etudes on this disc.
The remaining pieces are much less demanding, from a technical standpoint. Perhaps they are less musically interesting, but nevertheless showcase a different facet of Hamelin’s compositional skills; namely, the ability to write intimate, personal music, demonstrated by his “Theme and Variations (Cathy’s Variations)” which conclude the disc. This 2007 composition was inspired by Hamelin’s then-fiancée, Cathy Fuller.
This CD is evidence that in addition to being one the greatest living pianists, Marc-André Hamelin has a distinct compositional voice. I urge pianophiles, as well as those who are just curious, to hear this Grade A disc.