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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Untitled painting (2001) by Monika Giller-Lenz
Track(s) taken from CDA67320
Recording details: August 2001
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: August 2002
Total duration: 10 minutes 20 seconds

'Stimulating and frequently astonishing music, ultimately unlike anyone else's' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A tremendous tribute to a fascinating figure in 20th-century music' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Marc-André Hamelin plays magisterially, as ever. He clearly loves this music' (International Record Review)

'This is an essential release…realized with the dazzling virtuosity and preternatural clarity that we have come to expect from the enterprising Canadian … this exhausting, diverse, and technically astonishing recording is not one that I would gladly be without' (Fanfare, USA)

'Marc-André Hamelin plays Ornstein’s music with commanding savoir-faire' (The Irish Times)

'A provocative collection, brilliantly played and splendidly engineered' (International Piano)

'Marc-André Hamelin is spellbinding in his performance … This CD is an outstanding example of astonishing music' (Hi-Fi Plus)

'It almost goes without saying that Marc-André Hamelin plays the socks off this music, tackling the most knuckle-busting runs and cluster harmonies in Danse Sauvage and its fellow pieces with staggering virtuosity.' (

'Marc-André Hamelin, aussi à l’aise dans les déferlements rythmiques que dans les moments suspendus du temps, nous offer là un disque superbe' (Répertoire, France)

Arabesques, Op 42

Primal echo  [1'40]
Shadowed waters  [0'40]
Pompeian fresco  [0'50]
Passion  [0'26]
Les basoches  [0'34]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The nine Arabesques, Op 42, are studies in psychological states, mainly in ABA form. Ornstein’s titles don’t offer much help. When Godowsky wrote such pieces, they were usually deliberate picture-postcards (as in ‘The Chattering Monkeys at the Sacred Lake of Wendit’ and ‘In the Streets of Old Batavia’ from the Java Suite), but Ornstein’s labels seem at best to offer allusion rather than specific reference. No 1, ‘The Isle of Elephants’, is a tranquil Szymanowskian nightscape, unrolling under a constant treble ostinato that seems to threaten danger until it again recedes into the distance. (The original Breitkopf publication carried French titles as well as English, revealing that ‘The Isle of Elephants’ is simply a mistranslation of ‘L’Île d’Elephantine’—Elephantine Island, an important archaeological site, which sits in the Nile in front of Aswan.) No 2, ‘Primal Echo’, sets out over another ostinato, a pungent chordal sequence that is soon swept aside in a maelstrom of figuration from which a fanfare-like figure tries in vain to emerge. In No 3, ‘Chant of Hindoo Priests’, a repeated-triplet pattern drops through the texture like a fleck on the surface of the eye; and the brief No 4, ‘Shadowed Waters’, might hint at sprites at play or lights flickering on wavetops. In stark contrast with the sections of manic rhythmic regularity in some of these pieces, the fifteen bars of No 5, the Scriabinesque ‘A Melancholy Landscape’, bring twelve changes of time signature. The relatively explicit title of No 6, ‘Pompeian Fresco’, is difficult to relate to the content, unless the superposition of the playful figure in the upper register on the tonal ambiguity of the bass reflects happy times under an unsuspected threat. There’s no such problem with No 7, ‘Passion’, whose eight bars of music (the ninth and last is silent) are unambiguously passionate. ‘Les Basoches’, commemorated in No 8, were a medieval French guild of law-clerks based in Paris who were instrumental in developing the farce—which may explain the satirical, Alkanesque bite in the music. Ornstein admitted that it contained ‘a touch of irony, a commentary on empty solemnity’. The turbulent passage­work of the final Arabesque sustains the most directly self-explanatory of these titles—‘The Wailing and Raging Wind’.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2002

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