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CD Review

Ives / Barber

Hyperion 67469

Sonatas for Piano

Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Hyperion CDA67469 62m DDD
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I had been waiting for years to actually hear the famous "Concord Sonata" by Charles Ives and I must admit that I cannot imagine Marc-André Hamelin's version to be bettered. The coupling of Samuel Barber's Sonata is almost incidental by comparison, this is definitely not the case, but such is Hamelin's impact and thorough soul searching in those densely complex Ivesian movements, that everything else seems to pale into complete insignificance.

The four movements that make up the Concord Sonata are dedicated to each of the four Transcendentalist literary figures to emerge from the town of Concord, Massachusetts in the 19th century. First off is Ralph Waldo Emerson with a movement that is marked 'Slowly' and the music changes from full blown 'magnificent chaos' to the soft and still sounds of the solo piano almost sounding like the rustle of the wind between the trees.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, another great literary figure is represented by a 'Very fast' movement, here the complexities of Ives is quite earth shattering yet Hamelin handles all with consummate aplomb. The Alcotts is the most lyrical of all four movements whilst the epic Thoreau is a massive piece here also including a solo flute part played by Jaime Martin. This is indeed an epic performance from an epic pianist.

Barber's Piano Sonata lasts around 19 minutes and is also in four movements although the second is just about two minutes long. Hamelin again sails through the work with fine skill and panache, the concluding fugue particularly impressive. Jed Distler's notes prove essential reading and no one with a sense of what the piano means should be without this exceptional disc. The stunning cover painting of John Frederick Kensett's 'Shrewsbury River, New Jersey' is just an added piece of beauty to these two towering works.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech

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