on 20 February 2012
This is the first CD review that I ever wrote, and it is bound to be the last for some time to come. I always find it hard to explain why some recording completely carries me away, while another recording may leave me untouched. With the Henselt concerto, this is different. I have well over 500 CDs in my collection, mostly solo piano and piano concerto recordings. The Henselt concerto stands out for several reasons. If you want to delight in the full expressive range of a grand piano, Henselt is your composer. Moreover, the sheer energy in the last movement is breathtaking, even after very many hearings, especially as it comes after a slow movement with exquisite lyrical qualities. The orchestral writing is of first rank, too. If the Brahms concertos, or Hummel's, or Tchaikovsky's are among your favourites, this CD is bound to give you another concerto you will savour. The Alkan concertos are sublime, the recording is excellent.
on 14 November 2001
Neither Henselt nor Alkan are particularly well known, but both were excellent pianists, wrote exceptionally difficult music and had the misfortune to be overshadowed by their more illustrious contemporaries, namely Chopin and Liszt. The two works by Alkan are more like concertinos than concertos and tend towards the style of Mendelssohn and Weber. They are technically difficult, but Marc-Andre Hamelin is more than up to the task. Henselt's concerto is a real 'hum-dinger' of a piece and is the complete antithesis of (say) a Mozart concerto in that the piano is not playing 'in concert' with the orchestra. This is an out-and-out battle, a fight to the death, with the forces of the orchestra on one side opposing the piano on the other. It is a very exciting, dramatic and full-blooded romantic work with dynamics ranging from ppp to ffff. Here, I think Hamelin's playing style is not quite appropriate. Although he is technically excellent, he is just too refined and too accurate. This piece needs a 'dirty' player that brings out the blood and guts, something that is captured in recordings by the pianist Raymond Lewenthal. In summary it is well worth getting this recording as the works are unusual and well performed but the Henselt is let down by playing that is 'too good'.