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Playful Scope

Marc-André Hamelin's Chopin

Hyperion    CDA67706

Chopin. Marc-André Hamelin. © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

Whether it is the Berceuse or either of the two Nocturnes that has turned her away from any attempt to listen and apparently sent her to sleep, the reclining nude by Jean-François Millet on the booklet's front cover displays monumental disdain for Chopin's music. She was apparently his contemporary and should have known better, particularly when he is interpreted as sensitively and with such tonal variety as by this pianist. Possibly the Barcarolle, if reminiscent of some comely gondolier on the rippling waters of Venice's canals, might have persuaded her to cover up a little, at least temporarily. Chopin's muse was always wide awake; nor does this nude, I suspect, in the least resemble the cigar-smoking George Sand.

We all know that as miniaturist Chopin is impeccable. Far more interesting is to hear him at work on the larger scale of sonata or concerto. Schumann had doubts, as others have doubted Schumann. In both cases I feel no scepticism. The Funeral March of the Second Sonata began independently before being joined by its companions, and it has ever since maintained a partly separate existence, to the extent of being orchestrated by Elgar in the full panoply of late-Romantic glory. But the wondrous intricacy of the Scherzo gives the deft Hamelin all the playful scope he needs before settling to the solemnities of the March.

Listen -- Chopin: Scherzo (Sonata No 2)
(track 3, 0:00-1:14) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Chopin greatly enjoys multiplying his sharps and flats, perhaps notably the latter. The CD has so far favoured five flats. The first of the Nocturnes has only four sharps, to be corrected after five more minutes to the six sharps of the Barcarolle. Between comes the second Nocturne and its five flats. If there is doubt whether Bach's 'Goldberg' Variations were designed to cure insomnia or to console it, Chopin Nocturnes make the perfect night-cap, eventful enough for recollection in tranquility of a day's happenings, but soothing thoughtfully towards the eventual oblivion of sleep as echoes of the music fade.

Listen -- Chopin: Nocturne in D flat
(track 7, 0:00-1:56) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

The finale of the Second Sonata had been an elusive display of relentless passagework. Its successor's Presto non tanto could not be more different. It has pianistic brilliance enough to captivate the most flighty of salon audiences, yet also a rhetorical power to belie any impression of Chopin as frail genius heading steadily towards a consumptive conclusion.

Listen -- Chopin: Finale: Presto non tanto (Sonata No 3)
(track 12, 0:00-1:03) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Hamelin has the sort of technique that can nonchalantly tackle Alkan's concerto for solo piano. Here it is at the service of finer music, and is a joy, if not for ever, for certainly as long as this CD lasts.

Copyright © 3 January 2009 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews