Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto for Hyperion is one of the finest ever recorded of that mammoth work, and now he has produced what is arguably the most important collection of the solo piano music since Geoffrey Douglas Madge’s epic six-disc survey for Philips in 1987.
While Madge covered the whole of Busoni’s composing career, Hamelin concentrates mainly on the ‘late’ music, though starting earlier with the 1906-7 Elegies. All the most significant works are here, except for the Fantasia contrappuntistica and with only the ‘Giga’ from An die Jugend. Hamelin includes some rarities Madge omitted, notably Busoni’s first foray into 'Red Indian’ music, the spellbinding Indianisches Erntelied (not published till 2001). There’s also the 1916 Canonic Variations and Fugue (Busoni’s highly characteristic realisation of nine of the canons from Bach’s Musical Offering) and several short, brilliant pieces from the posthumously published Klavierübung, including his last work, the 'Trills Study’.
As to the performances, they are all you could hope from a player of such quality, laced with repertoire he might have been born to interpret. This is playing of a very high order, such as—despite the now numerous competing versions of the Elegies, Sonatinas and Toccata—one seldom hears. Hamelin is well-nigh ideal in sensitivity of phrasing, clarity of tone and delineation of voices, not to mention subtlety of pedalling (listen to the final piece ‘With the use of the Third Pedal’ from the Short Pieces for the Cultivation of Polyphonic Playing).
He reminds you that you are listening to one of history’s greatest piano composers, a philosopher of the piano to whose ear and mind the whole of European concert music seems to have been continually present. A fabulous set, almost beyond praise.