It's hard to believe that after all of the complex and divergent piano works that pianist extraordinaire Marc-André Hamelin (b1961) has learned, deciphered, memorized, mastered and absorbed throughout his prodigious career, that he would still have time, let alone space leftover within his sponge-like mind, to compose his own complex and divergent piano works. The first recording of his own creations released in 2010, which featured his set of mind-blowing Études, has garnered praise and astonishment from critics and the public alike ever since. This new release is more of an overview, and at times a tongue-in-cheek homage to some of the great composers of the past.
For example, within the Variations on a theme of Paganini not only does he pay tribute to Franz Liszt's own reflections on Paganini's virtuosic violin pieces, but Hamelin, always up for a challenge, simultaneously combines (yes, does a mash-up) of its main theme with phrases from La Campanella. All of this with Hamelin's very own demented harmonic twists. To me, My feelings about chocolate sounds like the piano music of Charles Ives, even though in the booklet notes Hamelin himself describes it as a conceptual combination of Erik Satie and Morton Feldman. You will have to read the notes yourself to understand the correlation with chocolate. With Suite à l'ancienne he revisits the jazzy interjections found in the music of Nikolai Kapustin. And obviously, he gets 'diabolical' pleasure out of fooling around with serious music with his jest on the Variation diabellique sur des thèmes de Beethoven. And finally, his Toccata on L'homme armé, a seminal and influential plain-chant motif from the Middle Ages, closes the disc on an explosive note.
More and more, I consider Marc-André Hamelin to be the Franz Liszt of the 21st century. A combination of a pianist endowed with superhuman virtuosity and a brilliantly innovative composer all rolled into one. Where does he find the time?