Dukas’ epic and dauntingly virtuosic sonata is one of the composer’s most important works and, in its demands, eminently suited to Marc-André Hamelin’s talents. When Dukas composed his piano sonata at the turn of the century he was consciously adopting a form that invited inevitable comparison with Beethoven, one conspicuously avoided by other French composers of the period. Dukas embraced the challenge, and his sonata is one of the most significant French Romantic piano works, performed relatively infrequently only because of its size and difficulty. It has been a part of Marc-André Hamelin’s concert repertoire for many years, and we are delighted that he has finally committed it to disc.
Also on this CD are four almost completely unknown pieces by Abel Decaux which inhabit their own unique sound world between Scriabin and Debussy, although they explore an extraordinary tonal language that looks ahead to Schoenberg. Decaux is known to have composed nothing other than these four pieces (apart from a sketch for an unfinished fifth piece), written between 1900 and 1907. In the words of Roger Nichols, who supplies a fascinating booklet note, they “seem to come from nowhere; and, indeed, for quite some time, to lead nowhere”. Marc-André Hamelin’s compelling advocacy once again convinces us that not all little-known music deserves its obscurity.