Sorry for my adding a sixth star. But what to, then? Five inflated amazon.com stars simply aren't enough for a transnational treasure like this.
To say the least, it would be somewhat foolish not to believe that no single human being has heard all live and recorded performances of every living and dead pianist. In this case, that doesn't really matter as sensible extrapolation is sufficiently second-best. In front of you is one of the best piano performances of all times and centuries--possibly THE best (only the Almighty himself would know).
The conclusion is actually not that complex to arrive at. Look at the score, listen to comments by such proven experts as Liszt and Busoni, examine the competition, and then turn on the CD player. Some hints: the score's technical difficulty surpasses virtually everything else; Liszt has often been said to probably have been the greatest ever pianist, fearing no one, but of course Alkan; the competition, consisting of no mean pianists, keeps struggling with getting through all the notes (including Smith, Ogdon and Gibbons); hence, what do you hear?
I fully do understand why people throw away words like 'machine' or 'inhuman' trying to understand what they hear. As far as I know, Mr Hamelin is indeed very much a human being (have personally been blessed with several opportunities to verify that statement, first-hand); the difference is just that his pianistic abilities so apparently surpass everyone else's that things get somewhat awkward--or perhaps rather turned entirely upside down. Yes, Hamelin plays as good live as on record.
Is Alkan's Solo Concerto that greatest piano work ever written? No, but considering the perverse neglect it's been exposed to ever since composed, one might say it's indeed the greatest relative to its recognition. But even the sun has its spots, and so has the Concerto. Personally, I would have tried to substitute some of the first movement's innumerable broken right-hand octaves--but, on the other hand, admittedly I'm not a particularly great composer.
As to the competition, actually there is some--not from Smith, Ogdon or Gibbons, but from Hamelin himself; claims on Gibbons being the benchmark are best just ignored. How would I know? I can actually confess to having learnt loving this Concerto through Gibbon's recording (Alkan: 12 Études, Op. 39--don't ask how many times I've played it, only my CD player would know). However, since the arrival of Hamelin's first rendition (Music & Arts), when listening to Gibbons, I only end up paying attention to all those instances where the score extends beyond the reach of all 'human', or better normally-skilled, pianists. With Hamelin's remake out, the only reason for still allowing Gibbons shelf space would be minor-key Etudes Nos 1-3 and 11, not yet recorded by Hamelin.
To conclude, my previous desert island disc (Charles-Valentin Alkan: Concerto For Solo Piano) thus has now been replaced--which is exactly what I feared in my previous review after having learnt of the pending remake. Why? Hexameron very accurately points out that the remake shows 'greater vision', with the first movement in particular being 'more dynamically contrasting and passionate'. However, he is wrong when it comes to tempo, energy and excitement, where the first rendition still is unsurpassed, if by a tiny margin. The differences between the two versions are in the details rather in overall conception, in contrast to the entirely 'revamped [...] delivery' being suggested in Hexameron's review. What tips the scales for me is the greater relaxed, sophisticated beauty of the remake, realised through a vastly superior recorded sound--in fact one of Hyperion's better (Potton Hall), not far from the reference reproduction of Demidenko's definitive Liszt Sonata (Snape Maltings--Nikolai Demidenko Plays Liszt). I don't mean to diminish the bonus value of the addition of Troisieme recueil de chants to the catalogue, exceedingly charming as they are--they just play in an altogether division.
If everything goes wrong, this is the one disc worth preserving to demonstrate to other civilisations, species, or whatever they may be, what mankind referred to as piano playing.