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With this astonishing record Marc-André Hamelin commences his complete cycle of Feinberg’s 12 piano sonatas. Th is is music of the most potent and disturbing power. It is not surprising that writing of such private introspection, coming from a dark centre reflecting Feinberg’s fraught life in Stalinist Russia, could never enter the mainstream. Even when you sense the ghostly presences of Scriabin, Medtner and, surely, Szymanowski’s massive Second Sonata, you are no less aware of a fiercely individual voice.

When you reach Feinberg’s Third Sonata, his stature becomes truly evident – and overwhelming. In the central Funeral March (more fantasy than march) you enter a land of nightmare. Th e ensuing Allegro appassionato throws everything at the pianist, culminating in a wild fugal chase and a manic, dotted rhythm episode. Piling Pelion on Ossa, the demands are ferocious. It is difficult to imagine any living pianist other than Hamelin who could confront this music – music that is stranger than strange – with such compelling mastery, eloquence and lucidity.

This is a major addition to Hamelin’s unique discography. He has already recorded the Berceuse (guaranteed to leave any sleeping child in a state of fright rather than comfort) and, returning once more to the virtually unknown, he has researched and ferreted out editions for this Himalayan project: the Third Sonata is performed in the original version according to Feinberg’s manuscript. Few pianists would or could embrace such repertoire.

Feinberg may have been better known as a pianist himself (his recording of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues is a devout and deeply personal statement) but his music is a daunting revelation. Those of a nervous disposition should handle with care and take the sonatas in small doses… Others will be leftshaken and stirred. They will also be lost in wonder at Hamelin’s truly phenomenal playing. Hyperion’s sound is, as always, superb.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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