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CD Review

Charles Alkan

Grande Sonate "Les Quatre Ages"

  • Grande Sonata "Les Quatre Ages" Op. 33 (1848)
  • Étude "Le festin d'Esope" Op. 39/12 (1857)
  • Sonatine Op. 61 (1861)
  • Barcarolle Op. 65/6 (1876)
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Hyperion CDA66794 DDD
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This is Hamelin's first exclusively Alkan recording for Hyperion, closely following his "Live at Wigmore" recital that showcased two Alkan blockbusters. Returning to the studio, Hamelin continues the nigh super-human standard he established at Wigmore; if anything, there's a superfluity of power, an edginess that sets him apart. It's the sound of a piano pushed to the limit - strings struck so sharply that unexplained overtones crop up.

The "Quasi Faust" of the Grande Sonate grips the soul with its oration, titanic climaxes giving way to tender chorale. For me, this album was a discovery of Alkan's lyricism; I heard for the first time phrases that dripped sentiment, and I was moved in a way that his Concerto for Piano Solo never could. The signature, clattering brilliance is still there, but it's vertical dimensions are confined, as in the Sonatine, which tends towards Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte albeit driven to extremes.

There are few superlatives left that I can throw Hamelin's way. Naturally, I've begun to look for faults. At his best, he can throw the piano into a bombilation like few greats; his percussive touch, the way his fingers seem spring-loaded, reminds me at times of Horowitz. Sometimes, though, through the volleys of notes, I wonder if he isn't missing some of the rapture.

Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan