Chopin Piano Sonatas Nos 2 & 3
This is a disc that takes you by stealth. Not simply because it opens almost unassumingly, with a finely wrought Berceuse (perhaps a slightly odd decision given that the main point of this CD is surely the two sonatas), but because it was only after several listenings that I fully began to realise just how good it is. This is Hamelin’s second recording of the Second Sonata – the first, dating from some 14 years ago, was issued on Port-Royal (7/01). Comparison shows how much Hamelin’s pianism has developed during the intervening time. This new version is also a world away from the cliff-edge readings of Argerich and Rachmaninov; temperamentally it stands closer to Yuki Matsuzawa, who impressed me greatly in a BBC Radio 3 Building a Library survey a few months back.
Hamelin’s playing is refreshingly free from the “inverted comma” school of profundity, and he lets the music speak through him most eloquently; he doesn’t get carried away with the subtext of the Second’s Funeral March, keeping it flowing (with desynchronisation of the hands subtly done) and all the more effective as a result. In the slow movement of the Third he finds time to dream without ever becoming portentous, and is every bit the equal of Nelson Freire, whose Chopin sonatas have rightly won considerable praise. Predictably, Hamelin is wonderful in such things as the Scherzo of the Third and the visceral finale of the Second, though perhaps slower than you might expect in the neurotic Scherzo of No 2. In the finale of the Third he doesn’t begin the build-up too soon, as can be a temptation, and even has a skip in his step, very different from Demidenko, whose new version is reviewed opposite. I wouldn’t allow Lipatti’s legendary Third Sonata out of my clutches, but this version is definitely joining it on the shelves.
The addition of two Nocturnes and the sublime Barcarolle simply confirm in my mind that though Hamelin has made many fabulous discs, particularly in repertoire of superhuman virtuosity, this is one of his very finest achievements to date.