Liszt - Sonata in B minor

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FRANZ LISZT - Sonata in B minor - Marc-André Hamelin (Piano) - 034571177601 - Released: April 2011 - 2012 Juno Award Winner - Hyperion CDA67760

Having very recently reviewed and submerged myself into the impressive Garrick Ohlsson recording of the Piano Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt, I must admit has forced me to lend a more critical ear to this new recording by the consummate pianist Marc-André Hamelin.

This is a piano work in which the first note anticipates the last, and the last note reflects the first. In other words, the core essence of the piece only reveals itself after actively listening for thirty minutes and connecting the dots. It is up to the pianist to project that essence with an interpretation that holds the long thematic line together from start to finish. The first few bars they play have to hold within them the root of what's to come and point towards the end, and the few final chords must be the resolution, the final destination, the end of the journey.

Hamelin's interpretation projects that aspect of the work extremely well. Technically, Hamelin displays more clarity in the fast passages, sharper accents of rage in the furious moments, more articulation in the central fugue movement, but Ohlsson leads in the many moments that require gravitas and deep reflection. Hamelin's Steinway is solid and bright, whereas Ohlsson's Bösendorfer is rich and dark.

Two valid performances with enough of a difference in character to justify having both in your collection. If you were to pick just one, the choice would have to boil down to the extra pieces on each recording. The Ohlsson disc only has one other piece, the Fantasy and Fugue on "Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem Undam", whilst the Hamelin CD contains three extra pieces, including the beautiful Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, a work close in style and substance to the Sonata.

This year, 2011, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt. Therefore many new recordings and re-issues of his music will come out, including this famous piano sonata, but I don't think many of them, if any, will match Marc-André Hamelin's solid view of this piano masterpiece.

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2011