La Scena Musicale

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Hamelin Finest of the Finest

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Sometimes music just makes sense, especially when it’s in the hands of Marc-Andre Hamelin.

The Canadian pianist’s Music Toronto piano recital at the Jane Mallett Theatre March 29 was one of those classic affairs that can only be regarded as the finest of the finest.

Schumann’s much-celebrated Carnaval was at the heart of a Hamelin signature program of lesser-known pieces. The purposeful delivery of the opening majestic chords made way for a joy ride that was full of crispness, striking convictions and subtle nuances. The overall sound was bold without being hard and colourful without being overly polished.

Prior to the Carnaval, Hamelin opened the program with a brilliant performance of Haydn’sPiano Sonata No. 53 in E minor. The style here was clean, succinct and easy.

Following the Carnaval and an intermission, Hamelin delved straight into Stefan Wolpe’sPassacaglia from Four Studies on Basic Rows, Op. 23. Composed in 1936, thePassacaglia is a force of pianistic rollercoaster and not exactly the kind most people would enjoy in Canada’s Wonderland. This piece is dark, full of angst and deep intensity. It requires the pianist to make sense of a pounding battleground with his own reason or belief. Hamelin delivered something like a Hollywood-made head-on collision in that it wasn't a disastrous but spectacular event to witness.

This was followed by a descriptive performance of Faure’s Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat, Op. 63 and the official program concluded with Liszt’s elaborate Reminiscences de Norma. Hamelin showed off his steely fingers nicely here, at times looking like he would just end up with a big blur of piled-on climaxes. In reality, whatever this pianist did made sense on stage.

Hamelin played two contrasting encores, The Gardens of Buitenzorg from Leopold Godowsky’s Java Suite and a short, spirited piece by Haydn that sent the audience home with an affair to remember.

> Music Toronto

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