Marc-André Hamelin is among today's most versatile pianists. His recorded output has taken him all around the musical world, so it is with pleasure that we now follow him to the Spanish peninsula to hear Isaac Albéniz's Iberia Suite—'El gordo' among Spanish piano works. It's a technically daunting portrait of the sunny side of Andalusia. With Iberia, Albéniz magnificently evokes the smell, dust, dances and colourful atmosphere of the people and the historic places, and Hamelin gives us more than a tourist guide through Spanish rhythmic subtleties—instead offering a concentrated traversal of impressions as varied in flavours as a tapas lunch, leaving the audience to sniff and taste rather than become overstuffed.
However, I can't imagine a collection of piano CDs that doesn't include one of the versions made by the inimitable Alicia de Larrocha. Other recordings can only supplement her version, yet some are fantastic, such as the convincing Basque pianist Ricardo Requejo on Claves, the Spanish pianist José Maria Pinzolas on DG, or the more recent Miguel Baselfa on BIS.
Hamelin easily conquers any competitors with his technical brilliance and finger dexterity, but to me, his Albéniz sounds more like Debussy going to Spain. Larrocha is rough, direct and opulent; Requejo heart-breaking and tender; Pinzolas the sleek gallant, and Baselfa a Sancho Panza in this company.
Hamelin's release has the added interest of a William Bolcom completion of Navarro, making this version the most complete. A formidable supplement to the indispensable Larrocha.