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Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin grapples with Ives's finger-twisting "Concord" Sonata and wins. With a performance of the Barber Sonata that is arguably even finer, this disc is a pianophile's delight.
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Canadian pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin recorded Ives's "Concord" Sonata in the late 1980s -- a revelatory performance notable as much for its fiery virtuosity as for its depth of feeling. On this 2004 remake, Hamelin is even more intense and more digitally daring. Fast tempos move like gale-force winds, for example, yet textures are amazingly clear. Unlike Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who seems to link Ives with European modernists on his 2003 Warner Classics recording, Hamelin finds a vein of ecstatic transcendentalism that is peculiarly (and rightly) American. There's a rapturous quality to the lyrical passages (listen seven minutes into "Emerson," for example) that sweeps one along and leaves no doubt as to the greatness of Ives's vision. Hamelin's chosen discmate is unexpected, as it's difficult to imagine a style further removed from Ives's than Samuel Barber's. Yet the pianist's passionate intensity links these two disparate sonatas, and Hamelin's blend of lucidity and fervor is just as successful in Barber's immensely difficult work; indeed, this is the first recording to challenge the supremacy of Vladimir Horowitz's classic account. The recorded sound is stunning -- up to Hyperion's usual exacting standards -- and Jed Distler's booklet note adds greatly to one's enjoyment of the music. Absolutely not to be missed! Andrew Farach-Colton