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29.1.13

Hamelin @ Shriver Hall

available at Amazon
Haydn, Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3, M.-A. Hamelin
(2012)

available at Amazon
Liszt, Piano Sonata (inter alia), M.-A. Hamelin
(2011)
Marc-André Hamelin is a showman, but far from an empty-headed one. The program he played on Sunday evening, for his debut at Baltimore's Shriver Hall, combined the Canadian-born pianist's cardinal virtues: ear-tickling virtuosity, an exploratory curiosity for unlikely repertory, and an unexpected approach to the familiar.

In the first category was the opening work, Bach's Great G Minor Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 542, in the expansive transcription by Tivadar Szántó. Conceived by Bach for the organ, it is a piece beloved of many composers and performers -- Liszt, among others, arranged it for piano -- and one had the sense of Hamelin meditating on one of music's ancient scriptures. With a liberal use of the sustaining pedal, applied in all sorts of interesting ways, Hamelin gave the prelude a vast scope, both crushing in volume on fully voiced chords and glowing in a haze of sound at other points. The fugue had both crystalline clarity and massive textures in turn, astounding in fortitude of tone. Put Hamelin's own set of variations on a theme of Paganini -- the theme of Paganini, the one subjected to outrageous variations in his 24th Caprice -- in the same category. Part circus march, part homage to various composers -- snippets of Beethoven, Mozart, and tribute to Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Stravinsky -- the piece is a hoot and Hamelin played it fearlessly.

For our pianistic edification, there was Ferrucio Busoni's rarely played Piano Sonatina No. 2, an enigmatic piece that is radically unlike what is implied by the unassuming word "sonatina." Hamelin sought to unravel every eccentric tangle of the piece, reveling in its contrapuntal complexities -- a connection to the Bach that had preceded it -- and its harmonic extravagance. To draw a connection between Busoni and the Debussy that followed it, he used the work's odd conclusion to hold the audience in silence, beginning the first book of Images after a short pause. Through his scrupulous control of hand weight, Hamelin gave these three pieces an extraordinary transparency, creating the sense of imperceptible mists in Reflets dans l'eau and a blurred, almost atomic instability in Mouvement, of motion captured in a series of frozen stills. Only the middle movement, Hommage à Rameau, disappointed slightly -- sultry, but a little slow and dull, not catching the Baroque delight in rhythm. The set was capped off by a virtuostic, aquatically shimmering reading of L'Isle joyeuse.


Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin gives compelling recital at Shriver Hall (Baltimore Sun, January 28)

---, Marc-Andre Hamelin to make Shriver Hall recital debut (Baltimore Sun, January 26)

Jens F. Laurson, Ionarts-at-Large: Marc-André Hamelin at the Herkulessaal (Ionarts, December 16, 2012)
Not many pianists really make me want to hear the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, but Hamelin is one of them. He gave a pearl-like finish to two of the op. 32 preludes: a wistful, rubato-stretched no. 5 (G major) and an aphoristic no. 12 (G♯ minor), marked by a restlessly fluttering right hand. The program concluded with the composer's second piano sonata, wisely played in the revised 1931 version -- trusting the composer's later (perhaps too late) impulses toward self-editing. Hamelin raged through the fast parts of the first movement with technical aplomb but left room for poetry, giving the second movement a voluminous sweep without letting it become too sugary. The third movement rocketed with vitality. Hopes for a Haydn sonata encore -- from Hamelin's growing set devoted to that Ionarts favorite composer -- were almost met, with a guileless, crisp reading of the first movement of Mozart's C major piano sonata, K. 545. This famous little piece, which Mozart entered into his catalog of compositions with the words "Eine kleine klavier Sonate für anfänger" (A little keyboard sonata for beginners), was a last wink of the eye and nudge of the elbow from Hamelin the showman.

We will be back at Shriver Hall next month for the recital by mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and pianist Yefim Bronfman (February 17, 5:30 pm).

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