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BUSONI: Piano Concerto Op. 39.   Marc Andre' Hamelin: Piano, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Mark Elder Hyperion CDA67143 74m DDD.

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Probably the most important and singular release of this year, this Busoni Concerto would definitely have made it for the Gramophone Awards. . It is indeed a suitable jewel in the crown of Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto and continues to confirm the superb enterprising brilliance of this series.

The latest issues were not really memorable, Kullak, Dreyschock, Brull, a sound coupling but nothing overtly sensational, the Busoni definitely is and more besides. As Michael Spring espouses in his introduction, Busoni's reputation as a composer has suffered considerably as he is mainly remembered as a colossal pianist. John Ogdon's recording with Revenaugh has been the standard recommendation of this work for decades and it was the double LP Concert Classics set that kept me constant company when listening (most of the time open-mouthed) to this fabulous recording. Hamelin is the supreme virtuoso, from that titanic piano entry to the devilish fingerwork of the Pezzo giocoso through to the divinity of the cantico. Occasionally the sheer fantasy of Ogdon's playing is captivating but constantly I found myself returning to Hamelin's unobtrusive virtuosity especially with a recording that confirms the Symphony Hall's fabled acoustic. Hamelin's Prologo e Introito is sublime with some dazzling piano playing and an orchestral contribution of great beauty especially in the 'Pastorale' conclusion (Ronald Stevenson). The central movements are also quite winningly done especially the three-movement Pezzo giocoso, a true display of fearsome virtuosity and magnificent genius. Comparing Ogdon and Hamelin is difficult, I am a great fan of the former but the dash and polish of Hamelin is also magnificent. Tarantella is also quite fantastic with a full-throated orchestral accompaniment coaxed along with panache by Elder. The concluding pages of that movement are utterly absorbing, power and harmony make strange bedfellows but all is consumed in the final movement of Babylonian proportions (Stevenson again). It is a question of the futility of life almost reminiscent of Mahler's magnificent Eighth Symphony with a chorus of unhallowed beauty rising alongside harmonic shifts. Both versions are quite flawless here although Hyperion has the better recording and Ogden's is now beginning to show its age. I did not care much for the remastered Ogdon, indeed I prefer the wholesome rounded sound of the LPs, a crisp alternative to the CD. Ronald Stevenson's outstanding booklet note is reproduced for the benefit of all and was an awesome eye-opener for me; it will definitely be for those who buy this disc. Crystal clear recording and outstanding presentation continue to add to the allure of this spectacular release. However it should definitely redefine the status of this superb concerto as one of the most important this century.



Gerald Fenech


Gerald Fenech

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