Romantic Piano Encores

Kenneth Hamilton

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Romantic Piano Encores Review

by James Manheim

The seemingly oxymoronic idea of an album of encores was a staple of golden age pianism, with such artists as Ashkenazy and Argerich offering sets of them. Such releases are not as common as they once were, but pianist Kenneth Hamilton revives the tradition with great success. He grasps the key to a successful encore, namely that it should not be simply a page from the Romantic piano greatest hits but should leave the audience with a bit of mystery, asking, "what the heck was that?" Hamilton does have a few familiar numbers here, including Saint-Saëns' The Swan and Percy Grainger's setting of the Irish Tune from County Derry, otherwise known as the Londonderry Air or Danny Boy, but most of his selections are attractively intriguing and obscure. Consider the Fantasy on the Irish Air "The Last Rose of Summer" of Mendelssohn, a brilliant dissection of that familiar tune compactly presented in just over seven minutes. There's a delightful Rosenkavalier Ramble of Richard Strauss, and a little piano work of Elgar called In Smyrna that most non-British listeners will not have heard. Leopold Godowsky's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Johann Strauss' Artist's Life, at nearly 15 minutes, might be an encore only for an extremely successful performance, but it provides Hamilton with a brilliant finale to an entirely satisfying program.

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