Haydn, Piano Sonatas
Schumann, Carnaval (inter alia)
Just like last year, he opened with a polished pearl of a Haydn sonata, this time in E minor (Hob. XVI:34). The outer movements -- Presto and Molto vivace, respectively -- were perfectly suited to the delicate, feathery, spritely approach favored by Hamelin, weightless even at very fast tempi. The endless decoration, especially in the last movement, purled from his hands without a hint of fussiness or excess theatricality. His exquisite touch on the keys, weighting and voicing each note just so, made the second movement, with its operatic flights of fancy in the right hand, particularly effective. The same strengths were on display in the reprise of the same Fauré nocturne he played last year, op. 63/6, wisps of melody in a misty, wandering setting of perfumed sighs that did not descend into the merely saccharine.
The two larger works on the program were in celebration of composers with recent or current anniversaries being observed. Hamelin played many of the movements of Schumann's Carnaval, op. 9, in a refreshingly straightforward way, stripping most of the sentimentality from the Chopin movement, for example -- in a way recalling the forthright virtuosity of Hamelin's recent Chopin disc. The Préambule was noisy and raucous, with a booming left hand and plenty of carnivalesque chaos. Pierrot was sweet and a little awkward, with its obsessive repetition of the same motif (E-flat, C, B-flat), and Harlequin playful in the big leaping dotted rhythms. The wandering right hand in the Eusebius movement floated over beautiful voicings in the left hand, and the contrasting Florestan was irascible and fizzy. Fast movements like Papillons, Pantalon et Colombine, and Reconnaissance, with its percolating repeated notes, floated and whirled at a breathtaking pace. The only disappointment, admittedly very mild, was that Hamelin did not play the Sphinxes movement in any form: no big surprise there, as most pianists simply omit this piece, which is only a series of long notes spelling out some of the letter-coded melodies Schumann used. Still, the possibility of what Hamelin might do with this unnumbered non-movement was tantalizing.
Anne Midgette, Marc-Andre Hamelin at Strathmore (Washington Post, May 2)
Michael Church, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Queen Elizabeth Hall (The Guardian, April 19)
Ivan Hewett, Marc-André Hamelin, Queen Elizabeth Hall (The Telegraph, April 18)
Erica Jeal, Marc-André Hamelin (The Guardian, April 18)