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Samuel Barber & Charles Ives: Piano Sonatas [CD]

Marc-André Hamelin Audio CD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £10.34 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Pianist Marc-André Hamelin’s unique blend of musicianship and virtuosity brings forth interpretations remarkable for their freedom, originality, and prodigious mastery of the piano’s resources. Long known for his bold exploration of unfamiliar pianistic terrain, Mr. Hamelin has increasingly turned his attention to the established masterworks of the piano literature, in ... Read more in Amazon's Marc-André Hamelin Store

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Product details

  • Composer: Samuel Barber, Charles Ives
  • Audio CD (23 July 2004)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Hyperion
  • ASIN: B0002JEJQK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 197,930 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Emerson: Slowly
2. Howthorne: Very Fast
3. The Alcotts
4. Thoreau: Starting slowly and quietly
5. Allegro Energico
6. Allegro Vivace E Leggiero
7. Adagio Mesto
8. Fuga: Allegro Con Spirito

Product Description

Ives : Concord Sonata - Barber : Sonate pour piano / Marc-André Hamelin, piano

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Embarrassment of Riches 27 Oct 2004
By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
This CD contains probably the two greatest piano sonatas by American composers. Some might disagree, but few will disagree that they are great, if not at the very top of any list. [See below for comments about the Barber Sonata; most of this review will be about the Ives.] As to the Ives, frankly, I agree with Lawrence Gilman's reaction when he heard the première by John Kirkpatrick of the 'Concord' Sonata in 1938: 'This sonata is exceptionally great music--it is, indeed, the greatest music composed by an American, and the most deeply and essentially American in impulse and implication.' I can think of no other American music that stirs me as deeply as this. And, mirabile dictu, we have had three wonderful new recordings of it in the past year, corresponding roughly with the fiftieth anniversary of Charles Ives's death in 1954. The three pianists are magnificent: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Steven Mayer and, on this disc, Marc-André Hamelin. I've reviewed the Mayer here at Amazon. I had nothing to add to the raves by Amazon customer reviewers about the Aimard and so I didn't review it, but I count it among the best recordings of the year. And then there is this newly issued recording by Hamelin. He recorded it once before, in 1988, and although this performance is similar in many respects, one can feel that he is at greater ease with it than sixteen years ago. Both performances are wonderful, but this one is, as I said to a friend recently, 'a corker.'
I am not an Ives scholar, like fellow Amazon reviewer Bob Zeidler, and I hope that he will be adding his review to this page some time soon. But I do have a few thoughts about this recording, and some brief comparisons with the two other recent issues by Aimard and Mayer.
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Hamelin's Best 11 Nov 2007
By Scriabinmahler TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I've always enjoyed any recording made by Hamelin since the release of the amazing Scriabin Sonatas, but recently I noticed lack of depth in his playing in some recordings like his Schumann Fantasie in C and this Ives / Barber Sonata recordings. I was a bit disappointed as critics were lavishing their praises on this one. Ives Sonata sounds like monotonous contrast of loud and quiet and lacks intensity for about first 20 minutes or so due to surprisingly one dimensional excution of forte and fortissimo. Hamelin's earlier recording of the same work (New World label) is far more intense and profound even though flute is not included.

Cool, Matter-of-fact rendition of Barber Sonata too lacks intensity or dare devil excitement of Horowitz. No where near to match Leon McCawley's riveting performance. Personally I think such sonatas demands more risk-taking and boldness. I would prefer a more dangerous and aggressive performance with some wrong notes than immaculate yet too cool-headed performance like this. Is he becoming too complacent with his virtuosity?
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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Embarrassment of Riches 27 Oct 2004
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This CD contains probably the two greatest piano sonatas composed by Americans. Some might disagree, but few will disagree that they are great, if not at the very top of any list. [See below for comments about the Barber Sonata; most of this review will be about the Ives.] As to the Ives, frankly, I agree with Lawrence Gilman's reaction when he heard the première by John Kirkpatrick of the 'Concord' Sonata in 1938: 'This sonata is exceptionally great music--it is, indeed, the greatest music composed by an American, and the most deeply and essentially American in impulse and implication.' I can think of no other American music that stirs me as deeply as this. And, mirabile dictu, we have had three wonderful new recordings of it in the past year, corresponding roughly with the fiftieth anniversary of Charles Ives's death in 1954. The three pianists are magnificent: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Steven Mayer and, on this disc, Marc-André Hamelin. I've reviewed the Mayer here at Amazon. I had nothing to add to the raves by Amazon customer reviewers about the Aimard and so I didn't review it, but I count it among the best recordings of the year. And then there is this newly issued recording by Hamelin. He recorded it once before, in 1988, and although this performance is similar in many respects, one can feel that he is at greater ease with it than sixteen years ago. Both performances are wonderful, but this one is, as I said to a friend recently, 'a corker.'

I am not an Ives scholar, like fellow Amazon reviewer Bob Zeidler, and I hope that he will be adding his review to this page some time soon. But I do have a few thoughts about this recording, and some brief comparisons with the two other recent issues by Aimard and Mayer. As I said in my Mayer review, the easiest course is simply to buy all three, but I recognize that might not be the choice than many will make. So, how does one make a choice about which version to buy? Well, first of all there is the question of price: Mayer's is on the budget Naxos label; the other two are at full price. Couplings might make a difference to some. Aimard's includes Susan Graham singing seventeen of Ives's songs accompanied by Aimard; they are simply smashing. Mayer's includes other shorter piano works: 'Varied Air and Variations,' 'The Celestial Railroad,' and Transcription No. 1 from 'Emerson.' Also, the four movements of the 'Concord' Sonata are separately introduced by actor Kerry Shale reading appropriate passages from Ives's 'Essays Before a Sonata.' (The Essays are the length of a short book and can be accessed online at Project Gutenberg for the interested among you. I take pride in having proofread the 'Essays' for Project Gutenberg. If you catch some typos, they're mine!) Hamelin's CD, of course, is coupled with the Barber Sonata.

How do the performances differ? Well, for starters, Aimard includes the optional tiny viola part at the end of the 'Emerson' movement (played by viola superstar, Tabea Zimmermann) and the flute part in 'Thoreau' (played by flute superstar Emanuel Pahud). Nice as this is, it is not a deal-maker or -breaker. I cannot vouch for the fact that all three pianists play precisely the same version of the 'Concord.' I didn't catch any differences but there may be some because there are as many different versions of the sonata as there are leaves on a tree--Ives kept making changes. I believe, though, that all three primarily are using the version Ives made in the late 1940s. Movement timings might be instructive: Hamelin's traversal is by far the fastest at 42'54"; Aimard's is 48'16", Mayer's roughtly 52', not counting Shale's readings in between movements. Hamelin's 'Emerson' is almost a full three minutes faster than Mayer's. And his version of the ferociously difficult 'Hawthorne' is a full two minutes faster than either of the other versions. Further, Hamelin's inflections seem more finely nuanced, even at the greater speed. Still, his approach seems almost romantic at times, especially as compared to Mayer's which seems more, for lack of a better word, 'modern.' Aimard's (and perhaps I'm thinking this simply because of his long association with Messiaen and his music) seems more impressionistic. The sonata contains a great deal of layering and blurring of textures and all three pianists manage that extremely well. Where Mayer and Hamelin seem to have an edge is in the sharp 'American' outlines of the quicker rhythms. I particularly like what they do with the march rhythms (e.g. when 'Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean' is quoted) and the proto-jazz sections (although, to be honest, Aimard gets in some licks, too).

The more I think about it, the more I realize I get something from each version and and I wouldn't want to be without any of them. I guess my initial impulse to say 'Buy all three' was stronger than I realized. Buy all three!!

Finally, I must say that the performance of the Barber Sonata is the most vital I've ever heard. Not only is the popular final movement, the Fugue, played with point and almost inhuman aplomb, but the powerful, dissonant first movement, the almost Mendelssohnian (well, light-textured anyhow) second movement, and the lovely adagio are exceedingly convincing.

An extraordinary release. I'd hate to be the folks who have to give out prizes for best piano performance or best CD of twentieth-century music for 2004. Maybe they could award a tie!

Scott Morrison
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OK.. so how's the Barber? 10 Jan 2006
By Jeffrey G. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
No offense whatsoever to the other reviewers - I found the Alcotts movement of the Concord sonata fun to play and to work on for a short time, but the work still eludes me, so I'm not even going to attempt to evaluate Hamelin's performance of the Ives. However, I adore the Barber sonata, and so when I saw this CD on the shelf, I thought, how can I lose? Hamelin has a surplus of technique for a moderately taxing piece like this, and I felt he would surely have more fun with it than Horowitz did. It was with that mindset that I paid the big sticker price and took it home. What I got out of it was quite different than what I expected, but in no way disappointing.

The first thing that stood out to me was two notes in the first movement that were different than any edition I've seen or any recording I've heard. They are both too obvious and important to have been overlooked unintentionally. These are an A changed to an A-flat in m. 72 (two bars before the key changes to C minor), and an E-flat changed to an E-double flat or a D in m. 158 (four bars before the final 3/2 measure). They make perfect sense, but they also stand out strikingly with strong effect, especially the second one, and I would be interested to know what sources Hamelin used when making these decisions. They're brilliant, whatever they are. There may be a couple other differences I'm forgetting.

Put the minutiae aside, and listen to the flow of this opening movement. Horowitz plays it as one tremendous and continuous urge - he moves from point to point like a man possessed, and then ends in a cataclysm. Hamelin, by contrast, takes a much more contemplative approach overall. There is far more piano and pianissimo, much more of a respite in the Un poco meno mosso, much more air and breathing room, which makes it seem large and expansive - Horowitz's approach feels like it is suffering from obsessive tunnel vision by comparison, though it too is convincing. I question some of Hamelin's use of a leggiero touch in odd places, as I often do in his recordings, but I think as well as he plays, and as original a conception as he has of this piece, he's entitled to his distinctive quirks. It's as if he can't stand being serious all the time and sometimes has to give us a peek of the quirky, tongue-in-cheek "encore" Hamelin just to remind us he's still there.

The next thing that stood out was an astonishing degree of control in the scherzo that follows. I had gotten so accustomed to passages marked 'mf' being played marcato-fortissimo rather than mezzoforte that I didn't realize it was possible to play the piece as Barber had written it, complete with hair's-breadth crescendos and decrescendos. But Hamelin makes it happen, playing the gnarliest, most awkward pianistic death-traps with a calm and poise that most pianists can scarcely summon in the easiest passages of this tricky, tricky little scherzo. The 2-minute length of this track is easily worth the price of the disc.

Still reading? Don't. Buy it, and don't let me spoil the rest of it.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking 2 Sep 2005
By Wayne A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Of all the composers out there who we'd like to call greats but are hanging in limbo a bit because they are still tough nuts to crack interpretively, Ives is the King. As with other major yet complex composers before him--Berlioz immediately comes to mind and then there's late Beethoven, of course--if the music isn't played and heard exactly right, accusations of incompetence, amateurishness, and even feeble-mindedness run rampant. Even people who should know better like Bernstein said dumb things about their betters--Bernstein was caught "discovering" and simultaneously diminishing Ives as an amateur and probably out of envy. On the other hand Stravinsky once was asked to describe the perfect piece of music and his answer was Ives's "Decoration Day." He must have been studying the score because perfect performances of it haven't been common. Well anyway, now that people are starting to pay attention they're noticing that Charles E. Ives of Connecticut was one hell of a composer.

First let me get this out of the way--the Barber Sonata on this is a stunner. Look no further.

The "Concord" here is the best, the most perfect, the most thoroughly Ivesian, I've ever heard. Hamelin possesses the skill to handle the Ives flourishes and filigrees, the odd notes, the clusters, but more importantly he understands that this is not "Bad Boy" music but a highly successful attempt to push musical expressiveness to new heights. All that strange stuff is there for an expressive reason and not to simply shock or bewilder. Some folks still have difficulty understanding this about the music of Charles Ives. His was a new level of aesthetic beauty.

Hamelin also conveys the structure. He understands that Ives is, contrary to former poorly formed notions, all about structure--the pieces exist in the first place because of Ives's well-considered ideas about form and structure.

All in all, this is the recording that should do for Ives what certain recordings and pianists did for other brilliant-yet-controversial composers. I'm thinking of Gieseking's early Debussy for example. Walk away from a listen to this and be convinced the "Concord Sonata" is a masterpiece.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Recording The Leaves Us Speechless 13 Mar 2006
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Marc-Andre Hamelin is a wizard, a wonder, and a poet. Seeing that he has recorded these two brilliant American sonatas and had the courage to place them back to back on one CD reveals another side of the man's genius. Under his hands and inside his soul Hamelin now owns these incredibly complex yet equally incredibly important works.

Hamelin approaches Charles Ives' Sonata No. 2: Concord, Mass. with the ease of early Mozart: the technical challenges dissolve into the inordinately mellifluous singing of the poetry so often absent form this big work. Having heard this sonata performed live on many occasions the audience always seems to respond in marvel that the pianist could get through it, much less relate the lilting stories behind each segment. Hamelin not only finds that level of communication, but he also plays with such security that there is never a doubt that he is in full control and THAT puts the listener in the plane of hearing the poetry.

The Samuel Barber Sonata for piano, Op. 26 is unfortunately not so often performed. It is a majestic work and contains some of Barber's finest writing. But again it is not all about the technical hurdles within the sonata that shine with ease under Hamelin's hands. The incomparable sense of heartfelt melody so associated with Barber's other major works sings forth with more attention to nuance than any other recorded version.

This is simply one of those recordings that ranks as 'must have' in the collections of music lovers. The technical production of the recording is rich and live, a factor that makes the performances even more thrilling. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, March 06
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another amazing Hamelin recording! 14 Dec 2005
By CV Alkan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I really can't add much more to the 2 previous reviews, esp by the one by Mr Morrison, who consistently seems to write excellent reviews. The Concord Sonata is one of my favorite works, and I think it is not only perhaps the greatest American work but I can't think of another 20th century work that matches the scale, complexity, and beauty of this work. In terms of sonatas, nothing gives me more pleasure than listening to Mozart's Sonata for 2 pianos in D, Schubert's B-Flat maj Sonata, Alkan's Grande Sonata, Liszt's Sonata and Ive's Concord.

After I discovered Hamelin and Alkan some 10 years ago, I quickly discovered Ives and Hamelin's first recording of the Concord. Ever since I've collected every single cd ever recorded of this work, and yet always wondered why there was such a dirth of "good" performances of this work (same disappointment with Alkan Grande Sonata performances--I'm still looking for another good recording!).

After 10yrs of listening to one disappointing performance after another, we now have in a very short period of time 3 excellent recordings from Hamelin, Mayer, and Aimard. While I still prefer Hamelin, mainly because of the unmatched combination of technical execution and dynamic interpretation, I still think Mayer and Aimard both have moments that make you say, "Now, that's Ives." Although I still prefer Hamelin's original Alcotts movement, this recording offers superior vision of the other 3 movements. It's a better engineered recording and Hamelin just seems to have a better feel for the sonata. But really, I'm splitting hair here, and I suggest you get all 4 recordings for Christmas (or at least put it on your Santa's wish list).
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