Marc-André Hamelin has taken some critical brickbats when he has essayed standard repertoire, and he certainly got them for his first Schumann CD, the one containing the Fantasie. I was not among those who carped about those performances. And I do not sense any deficiency in this more recent disc that contains Papillons, Fantasiestücke and, best of, Carnaval. I think one reason some critics have taken Hamelin to task is that he has such a reputation as a virtuoso that they think he must not have any of the poet in him. (One used to hear the same sort of thing about Horowitz.) But anyone who has listened to his recordings of rather more off-beat composers -- Alkan, Roslavets, Medtner, Scriabin, Catoire -- will have to admit, I think, that there is plenty of poetry in his playing. However, he does not deal in sentimentality and perhaps that is what some listeners miss.
It seems to me that these readings of three of Schumann's most popular works are a breath of fresh air. Papillons and the Fantasiestücke, for instance, tend to move right along -- although the latter's 'In der Nacht' certainly dwells in a perfumed and romantic atmosphere. This briskness is all to the good, I believe.
When it comes to Carnaval Hamelin has come up with a new-sounding approach -- at least in my experience -- in that he does not romanticize the little character pieces, but rather plays them almost classically. This is not to say that 'Chopin' does not partake of that composer's tonal beauty or that 'Eusebius' is not pensive, musing. But on the whole Hamelin plays this music with bracing élan and I loved it. These are pieces I've played myself for nigh on fifty years and yet I heard things I'd never noticed, or heard things I'd never thought of before, and that is something I look for in a performances of these or any familiar works. Bravo, Mr Hamelin. You clearly are not just a virtuoso, you're a thinking and feeling musician.
A definite recommendation.