Back to Bach
It’s a good idea to read Kenneth Hamilton’s booklet before you listen to his disc. Not just because he is a fine writer, as readers of his After the Golden Age (OUP: 2008 – 6/08) will know, but because it provides a useful heads-up for some performance and textural decisions.
For instance: Hamilton has read several arcane publications that record Liszt’s performance advice for Variations on ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’, comments which, he notes, ‘seem to have been ignored in the subsequent recording history of the piece’. Again, if you had not read Hamilton’s booklet you might wonder why, in the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, some harmonies are changed (at 6'40" 7'08") and the final bar is played as bare octave Ds in both hands rather than the conventional chord: Hamilton tells us he follows (mostly) the 1916 text, Busoni’s final version of several, with some variants gleaned from a 1915 piano roll.
But this is no lecture-recital disc. In the two Liszt transcriptions that bookend the programme, Hamilton uninhibitedly exploits the full dynamic range of the piano (a fine Hamburg Steinway with a crystalline upper treble), rattling the lower bass strings to thrilling effect as he creates the organ-like sonority necessary to convey the full majesty of Liszt’s writing. Where the command is tempestuoso, Hamilton is happy to oblige. In the Chaconne, too, he takes no prisoners in a reading which more than fulfils Busoni’s conceptual grandeur (its dedicatee, Eugen d’Albert, hated it), a quasi organo reading as opposed to the bravura piano solo in the hands of Michelangeli or Benjamin Grosvenor. In the two Bach-Busoni chorales Hamilton shows another side of his artistry, singing their long-breathed lines to perfection.
Despite his admirably clear voicing and a lightening of touch and tone, I was less taken with the three movements from the E major Violin Partita in which Bach meets Rachmaninov, Mendelssohn and Godowsky. Hamilton seems overemphatic, too keen to make a point, especially in the Gavotte. Here I prefer the airier, more buoyant approach of Hannes Minnaar (Cobra, 1/14). Nonetheless a most rewarding recital from a pianist who merits far wider attention.