This disc contains Schumann's three greatest abstract works for piano (as opposed to his suites of character pieces such as Carnival and Kinderszenen), including the Fantasy Op 17 arguably his finest piano work. Marc-André Hamelin has lived with these works for many years, and has made something of a speciality of the C major Fantasy, which he has played many times in concert. These performances have been widely praised, and we are delighted that this studio recording captures all the poetry and Romantic feeling of his live performances. Schumann was, of course, primarily a lyricist of the piano, but that did not stop him writing some of the most fearsomely difficult passages in the repertoire: the coda to the second movement of the Fantasy is an infamous example, as are many of the variations in the Études symphoniques. Nevertheless, Marc-André Hamelin's legendary virtuosity allows him complete freedom to concentrate on the music rather than merely on the technical challenges. His now familiar hallmarks of refinement of tone and clarity of line, coupled with his warmth of expression, enable him to communicate Schumann's poetry with a rare poise and passion. All in all, this is yet another outstanding recording to add to Hamelin's impressive discography for Hyperion.
Marc-André Hamelin already has some notable Hyperion discs under his belt and now adds three works by Schumann to his catalogue. The op.17 Fantasie
shows Schumann the master of large-scale composition--at almost 33 minutes it is the longest piece on the disc. This is good, rich, meaty stuff, and Hamelin really gives it some welly, but he is equally at home in the quieter, more lyrical passages which are never far away in Schumann. Try the opening of the Langsam getragen. This is archetypal Schumann: intimate, assured and with more than a hint of vulnerability. There's more of this in the slow movement of the Piano Sonata op.22. After the headlong scurrying of the first movement, the Andantino lets us into the quiet place again, the old head-and-heart mix which is Schumann's trademark. The Etudes symphoniques
op.13 is one of those grand sweeping pieces that just carries you along. Having set out its stall in leisurely fashion, it cascades through an endlessly inventive set of variations to the Allegro brillante finale, which Hamelin tackles with take-no-prisoners verve. The playing throughout is rich and opulent, tempering Schumann's essentially personal outpouring with the bravura public face. --Keith Clarke