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Hyperion Records

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The Kiss of the Vampire (1916) by Boleslas Biegas (1877-1954)
Collection privée, Paris / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67569
Recording details: December 2006
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: September 2007
Total duration: 17 minutes 50 seconds

'A performance of the Concerto of such brilliance and lucidity that one can only listen in awe and amazement. Scaling even the most ferocious hurdles with yards to spare, he is blessedly free to explore the very heart of Alkan's bewildering interplay of austerity and monstrous elaboration … You can only marvel at such a unique mix of blazing if nonchalantly deployed virtuosity and poetic conviction … All of this is superly recorded and presented, prompting some not unreasonable conjecture: if Liszt feared Alkan's mastery as a pianist he may well have feared Hamelin's' (Gramophone)

'This intelligent and magnificently-played programme, displaying contrasting sides of the composer's personality … The Concerto is an engrossing musical journey, ranging from hushed chorale textures to the dizzying cascades of notes that make an orchestra entirely superfluous … The performance is stunning. Aside from over a decade's more experience, Hamelin now has the benefit of Hyperion's stunning recorded sound … As for the performance, if anyone can play it better, expect to see the devil as their agent. It is not simply that Hamelin can negotiate the ferocious technical challenges. Like a great ballet dancer, he maintaines a clarity and beauty of line, so that the shape of the music is always clear and seems natural, however unnatural the demands made by Alkan … This is playing of the highest order in music that should be at the heart of the Romantic repertoire' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Hamelin's playing here is as breathtaking as ever—it is hard to believe that a lot of it is humanly possible—but, more than simply a dazzling panoply of notes, it conveys a deep musical and expressive range' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The sheer keyboard brilliance of Hamelin's playing is exceptional. The breathtaking clarity with which he articulates even the most ferocious passages, while unerringly projecting melodic shapes that are often obscured under welters of notes, never fails to dazzle, and the way in which he sustains the huge first movement of the Concerto so that each discursive paragraph seems a natural consequence of what precedes it is a triumph of pure musical will' (The Guardian)

'Hamelin deserves an Olympic gold medal for this extreme musical sport: I doubt that any other living pianist could carry off the work with such secure bedazzlement, not to mention infusing it with refulgent tone and downright charm' (Classic FM Magazine)

'One of the supreme examples of pianistic agility in the catalog … The nocturnal slow movement is especially powerful here, its harmonies superbly weighted, its more dramatic moments tinged with a subtle melodramatic chill … Hyperion's sound is excellent too. Highest recommendation' (Fanfare, USA)

'The Alkan concerto is played to stunning perfection. When you listen to Hamelin play the most horrendously tricky keyboard acrobatics, it's as natural as being in a Ferrari with Michael Schumacher as your driver—exciting, but you know you're in good hands. We know Hamelin can not go wrong' (Pianist)

'It's great stuff and it's almost impossible to play. Of course, to Marc-André Hamelin everything is possible; he sails through the fiendish passages with incredible ease and panache. The man is not only a world-class artist but possibly the greatest-ever acrobat of the keyboard. The speed, articulation, and clarity of his finger work are simply beyond belief, and at the same time the music keeps singing regardless of the complications' (The Audio Critic, USA, USA)

'No piano lover should miss this absolutely transcendent, watershed release' (ClassicsToday.com)

'It is an axiom of classical recording that there is no such thing as a Hamelin disc that is anything less than compelling and fascinating. He is the most impressive combination of technique, intellect and fearlessness … The music here is wild, untrammelled and gorgeous and always so dauntingly played that, at times, it defies belief' (The Buffalo News, USA)

'Incredibly, Hamelin not only holds this massive work together but also makes it a satisfying musical experience … Hamelin scores with immaculate pianism and, in the lyric pieces, a deceptive simplicity' (The Absolute Sound, USA)

'Bien que l'oeuvre soit extraite d'un recueil d'Etudes, Hamelin n'en fait pas une démonstration technique; il l'aborde avec infiniment de poésie, faite d'inflexions bien senties et de nuances subtiles. De la part d'un pianiste dont on connaît l'enthousiasme pour la délirante inspiration du compositeur, cela semblerait presque naturel… mais cette évidence ne doit pas faire oublier avec quelle noble allure l'interprète se joue des innombrables pièges que pose la partition … Quant aux l'autres… ils écouteront sans doute à genoux 'intégralité de ce CD' (Diapason, France)

Troisième recueil de chants, Op 65
composer

Vivante  [2'44]
Tempo giusto  [3'41]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Alkan wrote five volumes of Chants: Opp 38 (two books), 65, 67 and 70. He took as his inspiration and model Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, not merely sharing their harmonic language and length, but following the key sequence of Mendelssohn’s first book, Op 19 (E major, A minor, A major, A major, F sharp minor and G minor), even ending with a barcarolle. Mendelssohn’s ‘songs’ appeared in eight collections composed between 1830 and 1845; Alkan’s were composed between 1857 and the early 1870s.

No 1 of the Op 65 set has no title beyond its tempo marking, Vivante, rippling triplets accompanying its graceful melody for all but five bars. No 2, Esprits follets (‘Goblins’), is a near-relation of Mendelssohn’s Spinnerlied, Op 67 No 4, a prestissimo fairy-light scherzo. No 3, Canon: Assez vivement, is a haunting lullaby and simultaneously a beautifully harmonized and ingenious strict canon at the octave—the melody is played by the right hand followed a bar later, an octave lower, by the left hand. No 4, Tempo giusto, begins and ends as a polonaise, its middle section a succession of unexpected modulations and rhythms rising to a climax that threatens to take us back to the supercharged world of the Concerto. No 5 is the oddly named Horace et Lydie. Ronald Smith relates in Alkan: The Music (Kahn & Averill, 1987) that Dr John White identified the structure of the piece as following meticulously the scheme of one of Horace’s Odes in which ‘the second speaker [Lydie] in the dialogue must reply to the first [Horace] in the same number of verses and on the same or similar subject and also, if possible, “cap” what the first speaker has said’. The last of the set, Barcarolle, is, relatively, one of Alkan’s best-known works (Mr Hamelin has recorded it previously on Hyperion CDA66794) and, according to Smith: ‘A fascinating pre-echo of the “Twenties”. With its flattened sevenths and false relations it might well be described as the piece of Mendelssohn that Gershwin forgot to write!’

Taken as a whole, one must wonder why this third book of Alkan’s Chants is so completely unknown. Any one of its six pieces would, at the very least, provide a pleasing encore. Perhaps (and not for the first time) the advocacy of Mr Hamelin will rescue these unjustly forgotten gems and put them where they belong—restored, polished and glittering in the shop window for everyone to see.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2007

Other albums featuring this work
'Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope' (CDA66794)
Alkan: Grande Sonate 'Les quatre âges', Sonatine & Le festin d'Ésope
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