Liszt Piano Sonata

Hamelin trumps all the aces in a masterly and virtuoso Liszt recital

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Liszt Piano Sonata

Even by Marc-André Hamelin’s standards (his earlier discs of Albéniz’s Iberia, the Chopin-Godowsky Etudes and the Medtner sonatas, to name but a few), this Liszt recital is a towering achievement. In the Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B‑A‑C‑H the opening idea emerges as if from a cloud of sulphur and, while Hamelin’s technique is superhuman and magisterial, there is never a question of virtuosity for its own sake. Then, passing from such elemental rage to the translucent shimmer, passion and serenity of the Bénédiction, Hamelin captures every aspect of this masterpiece, his gravity and refinement telling at every point in the central Andante or blessing, his transition from introspection to soaring exultance elsewhere like some glorious release. In Venezia e Napoli (that garland of encores that follows the second book of the Années de pèlerinage), the rapidity of Hamelin’s repeated notes in the sun-drenched Tarantella is scarcely believable, his poetic poise and refinement elsewhere no less notable. And here, a few textual emendations would surely have delighted rather than piqued Liszt’s ever-generous nature.

Even so, pride of place must go to the Sonata, where Hamelin tempers Liszt’s rhetoric with a measure of dignity and restraint. His inwardness and lyricism in the slow scales at the end of the central Andante (the Sonata’s nodal and expressive centre) will touch and delight all those who warm to Liszt’s deeper qualities. Yet once again, the overall mastery is prodigious and, if there are moments when it is held in reserve, there are others where Hamelin comes at you with all guns blazing – a quality to enthrall and stupefy. In short, this is a pianist to trump all aces. Hyperion’s sound and presentation are as immaculate as ever, the reproduction of János Hofbauer’s The Castle of Dévény, Hungary entirely apt.

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