Rubinstein Piano Concerto No 4; Scharwenka Piano Concerto No 1
Described by one respected critic as the greatest living pianist, Marc-André Hamelin soars to ever new heights of virtuosity. In Volume 38 of Hyperion’s invaluable ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series, his phenomenal if nonchalantly deployed dexterity is matched by a cool, lyrical insight, making these performances virtually unsurpassable. Earl Wild’s account of the Scharwenka, aptly described in America as ‘a wing-ding of a romp’, is a hard act to follow but there are few pianists of world class more adept at trumping other people’s aces than Hamelin. His recent recording of Albéniz’s Iberia (6/05) – territory long occupied exclusively by Alicia de Larrocha – provides a case in point and here it is possible to see his Scharwenka as equally dashing and razor-sharp as Wild’s but with a subtler, more inclusive sense of poetry. There is never a question of virtuosity for its own sake.
Writing of Rubinstein’s Fourth and best Piano Concerto, the august authors of The Record Guide once claimed that if the swelling introduction promises great things, all that emerges is a rather large mouse. But such words were written long before the advent of Hamelin, whose brilliance sets every potentially tired page alive with a truly blazing conviction. His concentrated force in the finale sweeps all before it, and he pulls out all the stops in the gloriously over-the-top conclusion.
Hamelin is superbly partnered and recorded, and lovers of lush, romantic melody embellished with hundreds and thousands of winking sequins need look no further. This extraordinary pianist, who is heading towards his half-century of CDs for Hyperion, now needs to be heard in the widest repertoire – not just in music’s byways, however tempting and scintillating.