Georgy Catoire (1861-1926): Piano Music / Marc-André Hamelin, piano


This recording on Hyperion's mid-priced Helios imprint was made in 1998. If you missed it the first time around, you can, and should, remedy that now. The music is performed by long-time Hyperion artist, Marc-André Hamelin, a pianist who time and again has exposed the extraordinary music of little known or completely unknown composers. This Georgy Catoire album is a case in point, and will be a welcome discovery for any ardent explorer of the Romantic piano repertoire.

Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) was born in Russia to parents of French descent. His musical abilities as both pianist and composer were apparent at a very young age, however he had no musical training until the age of fourteen when he began piano lessons. Perhaps the most significant offshoot of those early lessons was his introduction to and a deep appreciation for the music of Wagner, a development which no doubt influenced his compositions.

For the most part, the program is arranged chronologically, revealing an interesting evolution to Catoire's style. Especially in his earlier works, the music is lush and colorful, with sweeping melodies and quite an original panache in terms of harmonic progressions and rhythmic invention. It might be described as having a mystical quality like Scriabin, the harmonic colorations of Fauré and Rachmaninov's thrilling technical virtuosity. In his middle opuses, his music grew more chromatic, and often had a darkness to it not previously present - the Quatre préludes, Op. 17 is a good example. Listening to the next opus on the album, Chants du crépuscule, Op. 24, this trend continues. I found these later works to be more interesting and engaging than the earlier ones. The samples in the right sidebar provide two contrasting selections from Catoire's early period, the Prélude, Op. 6 no. 2 and Scherzo, Op. 6 no. 3.

This beautiful music certainly deserves to be known much more widely than it is. Perhaps one reason it is so foreign to both the concert stage and the recording studio is that it is so technically demanding. We're fortunate to have these performances by Mr. Hamelin, a pianist with the chops to make the thorniest passages sound as though there are no technical considerations whatsoever to his interpretations.