Hamelin, the composer-pianist

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Ricordanza
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Hamelin, the composer-pianist

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Apr 01, 2012 6:55 am

Let’s begin at the end, for a change. The program announced for Marc-André Hamelin’s Thursday night recital did not include any of his own compositions. But when he sat at the piano for an encore, he told the eager audience that he would be playing a piece that he had written last year. It was a set of variations on a theme of Paganini, the same famous theme that had been the subject of variations by Rachmaninoff and Brahms and Paganini himself in his 24th Caprice for solo violin. Then Hamelin apologized that this would be longer than the usual encore piece. An apology was never less needed.

Hamelin then launched into this work, playing the familiar theme with a slightly off-kilter harmony and following that with some of the most imaginative and fascinating variations I have ever heard of any theme. At times, he incorporated jazz elements, venturesome harmonies, some modern sounding sound clusters, touches of humor, and brilliant pianistic flourishes (of course). One variation was a type of “PDQ Bach” creation, with snippets of Beethoven and other classical and popular works. One variation worked in another Paganini tune, La Campanella. And one variation contained an introduction very much like Rachmaninoff’s 18th variation, making us think that we would then hear the famous lyrical inversion, but we heard another lyrical variation instead. After a brilliant conclusion, the audience reacted wildly. This was Hamelin, the composer-pianist, at his absolute best.

But let’s return to the beginning, and what a wonderful beginning it was. Hamelin’s Haydn is always a treat, and this time, he played the Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI:34. Hamelin’s approach to Haydn is highly individual, but somehow, never out of place. It’s certainly not a conventional classical-era approach, but it’s neither romanticized nor distorted into a contemporary framework. Hamelin manages to create his own version of Haydn which sounds completely unlike any other interpretation, but also sounds completely appropriate to the era in which the music was written. Of course, this is enhanced by Hamelin’s superb technique, with exquisite tone and glistening passagework. The result is a gem.

Next, we heard a work entitled Klavierstück IX by Karlheinz Stockhausen, who, along with Pierre Boulez, was a leader of the post-World War II avant garde. Some interesting sound textures were heard, but as the piece went on, the lack of such elements as melody or rhythm taxed my patience. After a few minutes, I was anxious for Hamelin to move on to the next piece.

Fortunately, the next piece was one of the greats in the piano literature: Ravel’s three-movement Gaspard de la Nuit. Yes, it’s known as one of the most technically challenging of all works, but those challenges are secondary to some of the greatest music ever written for piano. The eerie, mystifying and terrifying soundscapes created by Ravel in each of the three movements, Ondine, Le gibet, and Scarbo, are thrilling in the right hands, and it was no surprise that Hamelin had the right hands—and the right soul—for this work.

After intermission, Hamelin presented a Brahms work that rarely makes its way these days to recital programs, his Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5. I could quibble with Hamelin’s rendering of the first movement. His playing tended to emphasize its episodic character, and I felt that Hamelin didn’t quite hold together this expansive movement. However, fine performances of the Andante and the Finale produced an overall satisfying experience.

But I’m glad that the evening ended with the encore described above. Once again, I look forward to the next opportunity to hear this great and unique pianist…and composer.

Steinway
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Re: Hamelin, the composer-pianist

Post by Steinway » Sun Apr 01, 2012 7:12 pm

Another brilliant review and again, precisely accurate.

A tremendous pianist who never gives his listeners a dull moment.

A great evening in Philadelphia.

Thanks, Henry.

Donald Isler
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Re: Hamelin, the composer-pianist

Post by Donald Isler » Sun Apr 01, 2012 9:12 pm

Thanks for the well-written review! Glad you got to hear the Stockhausen, and especially the Ravel that I heard, and wrote about at the IKIF last summer. Hope I'll get to hear the other half of the program you heard, too!
Donald Isler

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