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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 1 September 1998


The Composer-Pianists - Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Shostakovich : Violin & Cello Concertos - Oistrakh / Mitropoulos / New York Philharmonic
Rostropovich / Ormandy / Philadelphia Orchestra
Morales : Missa pro Defunctis - Paul McCreesh / Gabrielli Consort


The Composer-Pianists
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Hyperion CDA 67050
Hamelin.jpg (26168 bytes)
In the liner notes to this astonishing album, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin deadpans, "I don't like playing difficult music." Sure, sure. A quick listen to this dazzling new recording confirms Hamelin's status as today's top interpreter of the world's most challenging piano music. Hamelin has selected 17 short piano compositions by nine of this century's greatest virtuoso pianists, winnowing the soulful seed from the showy chaff.

While the Rachmaninov and Scriabin selections are well known, this disc holds many delicious surprises, including Godowsky's ethereal Toccata in G flat major, Alkan's witty transcription of Haydn's "Twinkle, twinkle little star" movement from Symphony No. 94, Feinberg's spooky lullaby Op. 19a, and his joyous transcription of Bach's Schübler Chorale No. 6. Medtner's delicate Improvisation No. 1 gives us a tempting foretaste of Hamelin's projected edition of Medtner's complete piano music on the Hyperion label.

Hamelin's own compositions are at least as impressive as the other works on this disc. His Études were written in homage to Godowsky and Alkan. Hamelin's Etude No. 9 (1990) after Rossini's La Danza, is a catchy tarantella that wryly segues into tough passages with cascades of thirds and sixths in the right hand, double notes in the left hand, and unpredictable cross rhythms. Étude No. 10 (1987) is a dark minor-key reinvention of Chopin's black key étude Op. 10 No. 5 in G flat, like a brief psychotic glimpse into Scriabin territory.

Hamelin's Étude No. 12 : Prelude and Fugue is his only wholly original composition on the disc. A slow atmospheric prelude with falling-water effects on the treble keys, climaxes in a compulsive Bartokian fugue.

Shostakovich : Violin & Cello Concertos
Oistrakh / Mitropoulos / New York Philharmonic
Rostropovich / Ormandy / Philadelphia Orchestra
Sony MHK 63327
Shostakovich.jpg (26774 bytes)
This is a treasurable coupling preserving two historically momentous recordings. First, the American premiere of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto, Op. 99, recorded in Carnegie Hall on Jan. 2, 1956, just 3 months after its world premiere in the Soviet Union. Russian violinist David Oistrakh plays like a god, and Mitropoulos's New York Philharmonic is with him all the way. Even more impressive is Shostakovich's Cello Concerto, Op. 107, recorded in Philadelphia's Broadwood Hotel on Nov. 8, 1959 by Mstslav Rostropovich in the composer's presence. The cellist's precise motoric bowing in the Allegro is breathtaking. Excellent recorded sound, beautiful archival photos, notes in English, French and German.

Morales : Missa pro Defunctis
Paul McCreesh / Gabrielli Consort
Archiv DG 457-597-2
MoralesReqiem.jpg (32779 bytes)
Paul McCreesh has assembled a program of music suitable for the 1598 funeral of King Philip of Spain in the Toledo Cathedral. The Officium defunctorum: Invitatorium and 5-voice Missa pro Defunctis (1544) by Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales are ravishingly sung by the Gabrielli Consort. The acoustic of Brinkburn Priory, Weldon, England couldn't be more sympathetic to this a capella choir. The result is one of the most hypnotically gorgeous recordings in ages.

(c) La Scena Musicale