An appealing addition to the piano concerto repertory

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Ricordanza
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An appealing addition to the piano concerto repertory

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:10 pm

It may be true, as Philadelphia Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns wrote, that pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin “could probably sight-read the blueprint to a hydrogen bomb and make it sound compelling.” But when he has something really interesting to play, the result is entertaining and exciting. That was the case Thursday night, January 22, when Hamelin was the soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the baton of music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in the North American premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Piano Concerto. The British Turnage injected a healthy dose of (American) jazz in this three-movement work, performed in a most engaging manner by these two French-Canadians.

The first movement, Rondo-Variations, features quick exchanges between piano and orchestra. We hear a phrase from the piano, which is then tossed to the orchestra for a quick variation, and then, back to the piano for further transformation. The syncopated rhythm and jazz elements provide particular points of interest. The title of the second movement, Last Lullaby for Hans, refers to the late composer Hans Werner Henze, who had mentored Turnage. Suitably, it’s a slow movement, with passages that begin with a lyrical and tonal phrase, and then move into more ambiguous tonality and a more anxious mood. The lively third movement, A Grotesque Burlesque, has even more of a jazz inflection than the first movement, as well as the most virtuosic writing for the piano. No surprise that the thermonuclear powered Hamelin tossed this off, but overall, the verve of this music and the unerring interplay with the orchestra combined to produce a delightful musical experience.

In recent years, the Philadelphia Orchestra has resurrected some of the Stokowski orchestrations that have not been heard in decades. Before the concerto, we heard one such novelty: Stokowski’s orchestration of Rachmaninoff’s famous Prelude in C sharp Minor. As long as one does not try to compare these orchestrations with the original (the original piano version is an enormously effective piece for that instrument), one can enjoy these orchestrations as experiments in sound. Stokowski was all about orchestral sound, in particular, exploring and exploiting the possibilities of the sound of HIS Philadelphia Orchestra. But now that we know how this experiment turns out, we can put this novelty back on the shelf for a few more years.

Of course, Rachmaninoff could write effectively for the orchestra on his own, and one of his most well-known orchestral works is his Symphony No. 2. It’s a piece played and recorded often by the Philadelphians over the years, and this performance certainly did justice to this popular score. The last movement, in particular, was intense and thrilling, and evoked a tremendous ovation from the audience. Yet, I am still left with the impression that this piece, at an hour in length, is just too long. Yes, I know, there are longer works (Mahler comes to mind). But there are just some sections of the piece where the structure seems to come apart, and one is left with a feeling of meandering and repetition. Still, there are many moments of melodic inspiration and rich orchestration. For those moments, it is a work that retains appeal.

John F
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Re: An appealing addition to the piano concerto repertory

Post by John F » Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:10 pm

Marc-André Hamelin is certainly one of today's Most Valuable Players, notably for his unconventional and often extraordinarily challenging repertoire and for the command with which he plays it. I'm glad he's turning his attention to new music, and not just his own.
John Francis

Ricordanza
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Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
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Re: An appealing addition to the piano concerto repertory

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Jan 26, 2015 6:35 am

John F wrote:Marc-André Hamelin is certainly one of today's Most Valuable Players, notably for his unconventional and often extraordinarily challenging repertoire and for the command with which he plays it. I'm glad he's turning his attention to new music, and not just his own.
I should have mentioned that Turnage wrote this concerto specifically for Hamelin, and Hamelin and Yannick premiered the piece with the Rotterdam Philharmonic in 2013.

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