The tradition of the pianist/composer has fallen into obscurity, but it is spectacularly revived here by Canadian-American pianist Marc-André Hamelin. He was already a specialist in virtuoso music of the 19th century, but here he outdoes himself with a collection of works of his own composition. The works and even the recordings date from various periods, but the 12 Études in all the minor keys make a reasonably coherent gallery of extreme pianistic techniques. The virtuosity is both pianistic and compositional. Here and in the general atmosphere Hamelin's model is Leopold Godowsky. Those wanting to skip to the seemingly impossible pianistic feats might try the final pages of the Étude No. 5 in G minor: Toccata grottesca (track 8, based on an original that Hamelin refuses to reveal), or the Étude No. 3 in B minor, after Paganini/Liszt. But most of the pieces involve some conceptual aspect that is both ingenious and difficult to perform. The Étude No. 1 in A minor: Triple Etude (after Chopin), track 1, contrapuntally combines three Chopin etudes. The Étude No. 8 in B flat minor, "Erlkönig," is not an arrangement of Schubert's setting of Goethe's poem but an original pianistic response to it. The model is clear in the concluding Theme and Variations (Cathy's Variations), which quotes heavily from the variation finale of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, and manages to expand on the considerable pianistic challenges of that work. This may be a recital that would be even more fun to hear in person than on a recording, but it's state of the art for the art of the possible on the piano all the same.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|12 Études in all the minor keys|
|Con intimissimo sentimento|
|Theme and Variations (Cathy's Variations)|