In a State of Jazz / Marc-André Hamelin

Album Summary

>Gulda, Friedrich : Excercise no 5
>Kapustin, Nikolai : Sonata for piano no 2, Op. 54
>Weissenberg, Alexis : Sonate en état de jazz
>Gulda, Friedrich : Prelude and Fugue
>Weissenberg, Alexis : Improvisations (6) on songs sung by Charles Trenet
>Antheil, George : Jazz Sonata
Performer Composers

Notes & Reviews:

"One could be forgiven for thinking that this disc might just be a case of another classical pianist deciding to indulge a 'hidden passion' for jazz, but thankfully it represents no such lapse in taste from Marc-Andre Hamelin or Hyperion. Hamelin sets out his stall straight away in his chatty and unstuffy liner note, stating simply 'there is no jazz in this recording'. He goes on to qualify that statement and explain that even if the music on the disc - by Friedrich Gulda, Nikolai Kapustin, Alexis Weissenberg and George Antheil – might sound like jazz with a feeling of improvisation and creative abandon, all but one of the numbers is fully notated. Hamelin, however, manages to make the fistfuls of notes all sound improvised and effortless." -MusicalCriticism.com

'Played with such astounding agility and aplomb that you end up mesmerised by virtually every bar. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that no other pianist could approach Hamelin in such music. Notes pour and cascade like diamonds from his fingers and he has an inborn flair for the music's wild, free-wheeling melodies and rhythms, for its glittering whimsy and caprice ... Superbly presented and recorded, this is a special addition to Hamelin's towering and unique discography' (Gramophone)

'The Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin possesses one of those musical brains that spark with maddening brilliance in whatever direction takes his fancy ... It's hard to believe Hamelin didn't grow up within earshot of some dubious jazz haunt in New Orleans or Harlem ... As Hamelin explains in his enjoyably lucid booklet notes, Gulda's astonishing pianistic pedigree deserves to be seen in a far wider context ... Hamelin's evocations of these are wonderfully whimsical yet as crisp as celery. The syncopations 'sit' so comfortably under his fingers - exactly the right balance between ambition and restraint, warmth and edge - a pretty rare commodity in the performance of classical repertoire, let alone jazz-inspired music ... This is a lovely, lovely disc; I highly recommend it' (International Record Review)

'Although this fine recording is entitled ' In a State of Jazz' it includes no true jazz - every note is written down - but for all that it bursts with the daring vitality that is the hallmark of the best improvised music' (Observer)

'Hamelin plays with such dexterous panache that he puts back much of the heat that the formalisation of jazz as 'composition' removes ... Dazzling and enchanting' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Nikolai Kapustin's remarkable Sonata No 2 is a convincing integration of classical form with jazz. Alexis Weissenberg's Sonata in a State of Jazz, which evokes tango, Charleston, blues and samba in its four movements, is more idiosyncratic but no less dazzling' (The Scotsman)

'What an imaginative program Marc-André Hamelin has assembled: jazz-inspired works that are virtuosic like nobody's business and totally fun to listen to... Technically, of course, Hamelin is beyond reproach... he's a serious contender for the first word in piano playing' (ClassicsToday.com)

Notes & Reviews:

This album was nominated for the 2008 Grammy Award for "Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (without Orchestra)."

Recording information: Henry Wood Hall, London, England.

Marc-André Hamelin's Hyperion disc In a State of Jazz is not an example of a classical pianist letting his hair down, nor attempting to fuse jazz with classical music, or to create something a tad more commercial than, say, an album of Tausig transcriptions. This collection features works by four classical pianist-composers -- Friedrich Gulda, Nikolai Kasputin, Alexis Weissenberg, and George Antheil -- who fashioned piano music "in a state of jazz," though in fully notated form. The one exception to the rule is Alexis Weissenberg's Six arrangements of songs sung by Charles Trenet, which first appeared on a 45 rpm record in the 1950s credited to "Mr. Nobody." This was Weissenberg, who was attempting to protect his career as a classical piano virtuoso through hiding under this made-up name; he did not write down these arrangements, and Hamelin has transcribed them from the record himself. Weissenberg's impulses were correct; had he released his jazz music under his own name it very well could have wrecked his career; Viennese composer Friedrich Gulda made major strides towards breaking down such barriers, and his work is represented through three exercises from his pedagogical collection Play Piano Play (1971) and A Prelude and Fugue (1965).

Nikolai Kasputin is a name unknown in the West until the turn of the 21st century, and this in itself is none too surprising, as Kasputin has stated that he "does not want to become famous." A one-time student of Moscow Conservatory pedagogue Alexander Goldenweiser, since the late '50s, Kasputin has been turning out an impressive portfolio of jazz-inspired compositions, including six piano concertos, a fantasy of piano and orchestra, and numerous solo sonatas and preludes. Kasputin does not like to improvise and disdains live performances -- both pre-requisites in conducting a career as a jazz pianist -- so his solution was simply to write everything out. His works were published one after another even in the Soviet period, and Kasputin claims that he has made a good living from it -- the emergence of interest in his work outside Russia is something that seems a little befuddling to him. Hamelin -- and Steven Osborne, who first recorded Kasputin's music for Hyperion -- has served as an ardent champion for Kasputin's music in the West, and here interprets Kasputin's "Piano Sonata No. 2," a work which, for Hamelin, "became an obsession." The Jazz Sonata (1922-1923) of George Antheil is a work that is short even for a composer who produced dozens of short piano works -- it lasts only 90 seconds. Nevertheless, its dense and bumpy trajectory properly reflects the influence of early jazz on composers of the earlier generation of the '20s, and certainly belongs here.

Hamelin's playing is zippy and enthusiastic in fast movements and deeply felt in slower ones; with Hamelin, technical considerations of playing are generally irrelevant, what matters is expression and pacing. There is no tradition in such music of a need to swing the rhythm, though one wonders if a little added sense of flexibility might not have served him here. Hamelin is so forthright in fast movements that it is a little difficult to take it all in -- repeat listening is encouraged. Apart from that admittedly minor reservation, this is a terrific disc from start to finish; Hamelin's pianism is dazzling as usual, and the program of works are all impressive entries into this "Third Stream" genre, taken from the more classical side of the tracks than from jazz. The Weissenberg transcriptions from Charles Trenet are a particular highlight. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis



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Works Details

>Gulda, Friedrich : Excercise no 5 :: no 1. Moderato
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 1 min. 47 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1971

>Kapustin, Nikolai : Sonata for piano no 2, Op. 54
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 21 min. 7 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1989

>Gulda, Friedrich : Excercise no 5 :: no 4. Allegro ma non troppo
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 4 min. 1 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1971

>Weissenberg, Alexis : Sonate en état de jazz
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 19 min. 25 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 1982

>Gulda, Friedrich : Excercise no 5 :: no 5. Moderato, poco mosso
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 2 min. 22 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1971

>Gulda, Friedrich : Prelude and Fugue
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 3 min. 46 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1965

>Weissenberg, Alexis : Improvisations (6) on songs sung by Charles Trenet
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 13 min. 31 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern

>Antheil, George : Jazz Sonata
  • Performer: Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
  • Running Time: 1 min. 38 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Written: 02/22/1922