At the heart of this 68-minute recital is its longest piece, the Fantasy after J. S. Bach by Busoni -- it is a somber, powerfully-felt piece, with the required virtuosity never on flashy display. The Bachian material is clear, but the expressive effect is close to late Schubert, although one can't imagine Schubert composing it! Quite magical, then, and played with great feeling by Hamelin and beautifully recorded by Andrew Keener and his Hyperion team. Everything else feels slighter by comparison, some darkly so and some more playful. Hamelin's own Etude after Rossini's "La Danza" is sheer exhilaration. Sorabji's Pastiche on a Rimsky Melody is liquidly beautiful. Alkan's transcription of the Andante from Haydn's Surprise Symphony is marvelous. And so one could go on . . . Hamelin catches the individual spirit of each piece and plays very difficult music with great spirit and no apparent strain. He can thunder, he can sing, he can dance . . . a marvelous recording.
This chocolate box of a CD is a rare treat, even for Hamelin's eclectic discography. Using Busoni's ambitious Bach Fantasia as a hub, Hamelin spins outwards exploring some of the most interesting and under-rated music written for the paino, exploring some lesser known pieces by the familiar composers Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. Contrasting the virtuosity of Godowsky and Hamelin's own etudes with the reflective serenity of some Feinberg, Sorabji and Scriabin, the record displays a sophistication rarely found in piano compilations. When enjoyed alongside the tie-in book "Hamelin and the Eight" the experience intensifies as a greater understanding of each piece and its context is created. Needless to say Hamelin's playing is exemplary - from the blazing technique required in his own etudes through the finest filigree of the Sorabji Pastiche to the rich glowing chords of the Feinberg-Bach transcription, not to mention the glorious Medtner Improvisation (a real highlight) which seems to incorporate all these. As usual Hyperion lives up to its reputation for providing one of the clearest and most beautiful sounds of any classical label - the mid and upper registers ring out bell-like while the bass is rich and warm. All together this is an outstanding disc, for the variety of the pieces and as an introduction to some less well known composer-pianists.
Hamelin gives us here a dazzling 70 min recital of music by composers from Bach and Haydn (in more modern transcriptions) to Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, with three Etudes (Nos 9, 10 and 12) composed by Hamelin himself. This is simply an exhilarating concert of piano music. The works themselves are quite beautiful and Hamelin's playing phenomenal - playing that a generation or two ago we would have rarely heard except from Rachmaninoff himself and similar world-class pianists. The wit that Hamlin shows in turning Rossini's La Danza into a breath-taking tarantella is most enjoyable. That wit is very apparent too in Alkan's transcription of the `surprise' movement of Haydn's Symphony No.94. Busoni was himself a prodigious pianist who had great respect for the music of J.S. Bach and Hamelin's playing does due justice to both in the Busoni Fantasia on a theme taken from one of Bach's organ pieces. There are two works by Scriabin, two by Rachmaninoff, a Medtner Improvisation and Sorabji's pastiche on the Hindu Merchant's Song from Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Sadko to complete the programme. The range of tonal colour that Hamelin coaxes from his instrument in this programme is a joy to listen to. It is certainly not 'easy-listening' music - nor I'm sure was it intended to be.
Hamelin is a pianist who seems to specialise in the virtuosic lesser known repertoire. The playing as usual is impressive and the material covered is extremely interesting but in my opinion not music of the first order. It's probably a CD for the average pianist who wants to be acquainted with these works but won't achieve this aim through sight reading! I enjoyed this CD (and his recent Godowsky/Chopin etudes)very much and recommend him strongly while pointing out it's not 'easy listening' material.