Marc-André Hamelin

Liszt: Piano Sonata

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It's curious that Marc-André Hamelin, the Quebec pianist perhaps most identified with pure virtuosity, hasn't recorded a great deal of the music of Liszt, the quintessential composer-virtuoso. This collection of Liszt pieces delivers satisfying results, although they don't involve the sheer keyboard-pounding fireworks you might expect. Indeed, Hamelin deploys his gifts more in the maintenance of total control over the music -- not an easy thing with the Piano Sonata in B minor, it must be said -- than in sheer power. The sonata's numerous octave passages are rendered with perhaps unprecedented cleanness, and the slower pieces, including the rarer Bénédiction de Dieu dans le solitude, are smooth, poetic utterances. The three short programmatic pieces of Venezia e Napoli (tracks 3-5) may be the most successful of the bunch, with crisp, stylish dance passages and a lovely gondolier song. In the Piano Sonata in B minor Hamelin has lots of competition: there's a certain quality of wrestling with the material and emerging triumphant that may be missed here, and if listeners think it's essential to the sonata and to the figure of Liszt, this reading will be a little dry. But, like everything else in Hamelin's mature career, this recording is full of breathtaking technical display, and it's undoubtedly true that few others have the chops to make the sonata sound like this at all. Fine, absolutely appropriate sound from Henry Wood Hall brings you every detail of Hamelin's fleet fingerwork.

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