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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67513
Recording details: December 2005
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2006
Total duration: 19 minutes 33 seconds

'Hamelin, one hardly needs to say, makes light of any difficulty, clarifying complex textures and subtly highlighting different voices with myriad keyboard colours … this performance has expressive power and intense emotional involvement that make it one of his most successful recordings—and that is saying something' (Gramophone)

'Hamelin is a cult figure to pianophiles, his phenomenal technique matched by an intellectual musicality that's second to none. Dukas's gargantuan Sonata, light years away from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, could seem a white elephant, but Hamelin's magic touch transforms it into a masterpiece. And the weird world of Decaux is a relevation … symphonic in scope, Dukas's four long movements present pianists with an unusual challenge. The music doesn't show off technique, but it's nonetheless fiendish to play, and unless delivered by a thinking virtuoso it sounds rather unspectacular. A clear case of 'send for Hamelin' … this is edgy stuff, played with tenderness and flamboyance, atmospherically recorded' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Easily the best recorded performance of Dukas’s massive sonata … in Hamelin’s hands, the Dukas sonata is given a clarity of expression and an overall sweep lacking in the other recordings. His tonal palate being much wider than his colleagues, he is able to engage us more emotionally in a work better known for its intellectual properties. He also underplays passages that are pushed relentlessly in less understanding hands … Hamelin gives us added respect for the composer’s imagination … Roger Nichols has supplied probing notes and Hyperion excellent sound' (American Record Guide)

'Dukas's monumental sonata is one of the under-appreciated masterpieces of the French piano repertoire, and it is also a perfect showcase for Hamelin's extraordinary keyboard talents' (The Guardian)

'Hamelin plays it [Dukas] fabulously, surmounting its various challenges with ease, achieving just the right note of tender intimacy—in contrast to the rest of the work—in the slow movement. He is tremendously exciting in the Scherzo, but above all he expounds the vast architecture and drama of the finale as few have managed to … altogether this is a marvellous issue, and yet another distinguished addition to Hamelin's swift-growing discography' (International Record Review)

'Hamelin brings his characteristic virtues to both works. There's his ability to maintain momentum without sacrificing detail … and his variety of colour evoked in each hand … in short, this one's a must' (Fanfare, USA)

'This has to be one of my ‘Records of the Year 2006’. Hamelin is known for his explorations of the piano repertoire, but this borders on genius … simply stunning' (MusicWeb International)

'This musician has made a career of seeking out the forgotten gems of the pianistic past. His brilliant performance of Dukas's mammoth and technically daunting Piano Sonata was one of the more enjoyable discoveries of 2006' (The Boston Globe, USA)

'Hamelin balances the intial seething turbulence with quiet introspection. A breathtakingly lovely second movement precedes technical fireworks and reflective, harmonically colorful phrases in the third before Mr Hamelin propels the majestic finale to a virtuosic conclusion' (The New York Times)

'Hamelin n’a pas son égal pour clarifier les plans sonores et en dégager la clarté et la beauté … ce formidable pianiste qu’est Marc-André Hamelin se livre ici à une démonstration de ses talents: mise en place des plans sonores, compréhension de l’architecture musicale, puissance expressive et maîtrise technique parfaite' (Créscendo, France)

'Avec la prodigieuse faculté que possède Hamelin de clarifier les textures, de mettre en relief quelques articulations décisives du discours, de différencier les voix en jouant de l'extraordinaire diversité de timbres de son toucher, cette redoutable sonate acquiert une simplicité biblique la mettant au niveau d'un nouveau-né … la maîtrise est totale, olympienne, presque surnaturelle tant la vélocité vertigineuse se soumet aux exigences de l'expression' (Classica, France)

'Hamelin joue le jeu de la vivacité à fond et n'y a aucun rival. Son 4e mouvement est lui aussi fort impressionnant, et, en tous cas très lisztien … un disque utile, passionnant et référentiel' (

'Cette version remarquable de Marc-André Hamelin … enrichira ta discothèque et ta culture' (, France)

Clairs de lune

Minuit passe  [4'30]
La ruelle  [4'02]
Le cimetière  [6'00]
La mer  [5'01]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
An epigraph from the writer Louis de Lutèce sets the scene, with its white moon gliding silently in space, its motionless ghosts, pale luminescences, mysterious shadows, the carcass of a yowling cat …. This is the world of Edgar Allan Poe, whose writings, translated by Baudelaire and Mallarmé, were the (masochistic) bedside reading of many a French artist of the fin-de-siècle, including Gide, Debussy and Ravel: Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la nuit belongs to the same company. Even Debussy ultimately found the task of setting The Fall of the House of Usher beyond him, but Decaux’s more limited ambition succeeded most remarkably in bringing to life this world beyond what we call reality.

He wrote the pieces between 1900 and 1907, but they were not published until 1913. Whatever the reason for the delay (perhaps no other publisher would take them seriously?), Decaux’s teacher Massenet died in 1912 and so was spared what would surely have been a rude shock, not so much at the technique—as Richard Taruskin has pointed out, everything stems from the two falling bell motives at the outset (major second, major third; minor second, minor third)—as at the extraordinary harmonies and the no less extraordinary syntax. Whole tone aggregations (as at the beginning of ‘La ruelle’) and consecutive fifths were nothing so out-of-the-way around 1900, but some of Decaux’s chords seem to have been taken from a source such as the songs in Schoenberg’s Das Buch der hängenden Gärten; the only problem being that these weren’t written until 1909. Throughout, major and minor triads are scrupulously avoided or else, as in ‘La mer’, coloured persistently with a sharpened fourth. Again, this piece was written in December 1903, nearly two years before the premiere of Debussy’s La mer and six years before his similarly wild Prélude ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’.

Detailed analysis of these strange pieces goes against their grain. Better simply to submit ourselves to what Messiaen, in the title to one of his own piano pieces, was to call ‘les sons impalpables du rêve’—‘the impalpable sounds of the dream’.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2006

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