Marc-André Hamelin
The official website of pianist Marc-André Hamelin
Ornstein: Piano Music
Label: Hyperion
Released: August 1, 2002
Catalog Num: CDA67320

Suicide in an airplane

À la Chinoise Op 39

Danse sauvage Op 13 No 2

Poems of 1917 Op 41

No man's land: Andante espressivo

The sower of despair: Moderato

The Orient in Flanders: Andantino, molto espressivo

The wrath of the despoiled: Sostenuto, molto appassionato

Night brooding over the battlefield: Moderato e misterioso

A dirge of the trenches: Lento

Song behind the lines: Andante con moto e malinconioso

The battle: Allegro e molto appassionato

Army at prayer: Allegro, ma non troppo

Dance of the dead: Vivo, con fuoco

Arabesques Op 42

The isle of Elephantine

Primal echo

Chant of Hindoo priests

Shadowed waters

A melancholy landscape

Pompeian fresco


Les basoches

The wailing and raging wind

Impressions de la Tamise Op 13 No 1

Piano Sonata No 8

Movement 1: Life's turmoil and a few bits of satire

Movement 2a: A trip to the attic – A tear or two for a childhood forever gone. The bugler

Movement 2b: A lament for a lost boy

Movement 2c: A half-mutilated cradle – Berceuse

Movement 2d: First carousel ride and sounds of a hurdy-gurdy

Movement 3: Disciplines and improvisations

When Leo Ornstein died in February 2002, the musical world lost a fascinating composer, quite possibly the oldest of all time (the year of his birth is uncertain, but he was probably 109 years old). Ornstein had an extraordinary life: he was a child-prodigy pianist in his native Russia, a refugee from anti-Semitism, an avant garde American composer and a virtuoso pianist of international renown in his early twenties. However, at the height of his fame he voluntarily turned his back on the limelight and took sanctuary in increasing obscurity, and having been almost entirely forgotten, he lived long enough to take satisfaction in the re-emergence of an interest in his music—of which this CD is early testimony.

Ornstein's early piano works were unlike anything else in music. He employed the piano as a percussion instrument, pounding out savage rhythms and ferocious cluster-chords with a raw primal energy. He embraced atonality independently of Schoenberg and rhythmic primitivism unaware of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The titles of his pieces—among them Danse sauvage and Suicide in an Airplane—reflected the extremist brutality of the music and rapidly gained him notoriety. By his early twenties he was one of the most highly reputed of contemporary composers.

The music on this CD comes from each end of Ornstein's improbably long creative career. The shorter works were written at its outset, while the large-scale, kaleidoscopic Eighth Piano Sonata, his last composition, was finished in September 1990, when he was in his late nineties.

The ever-inquisitive Marc-André Hamelin gives commanding performances of these supremely demanding works. The result is a stunning disc that reveals one of the twentieth century's most original and quirkily imaginative creative minds.

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Updated: May-7-2015
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