Review: Hamelin

Review of Marc-Andre Hamelin's Tallahassee recital, from the Tallahassee Democrat, 25 April 2005. Reprinted with permission.

Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin is world-renowned for his thoughtful and sometimes unusual programming as much as for his prodigious technique and deeply musical playing.

All of these attributes and many more were in evidence throughout Hamelin's season-ending Artist Series recital Sunday afternoon at Florida State University's Ruby Diamond Auditorium.

The program consisted of music by the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz. After a virtuosic performance of Navarra (left by the composer in fragment form and completed by the eclectic American composer William Bolcom), Hamelin launched into a performance of the composer's masterpiece, Iberia (composed between 1906 and 1909).

Iberia consists of four books of three character pieces (compositions of medium length that usually maintain one or two moods, tempos, or textures throughout) each. Albeniz structured each book of pieces to make it a complete musical statement. Hamelin's performance order, the first and fourth books followed by an intermission, then books two and three, was designed to convey a larger sense of a whole musical statement, and he was largely successful, hindered only by the consistency in Albeniz' materials and style.

Hamelin's playing was ideally suited to the mercurial changes in these pieces. His technique truly is amazing. He seemed to glide over the difficulties served up in these pieces, which are rightly considered among the most difficult in the literature.

What struck me about the performance, though, was the incredible beauty and sensitivity Hamelin drew from the piano in the soft and lyrical passages in the piece. This sensitivity to nuance undoubtedly led Hamelin to underline the many unusual syntactical, melodic, and harmonic features of Iberia, but not so much that the larger picture was lost.

The pianist was brought back to the stage for an encore of Claude Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau (Reflections in the water), which Hamelin described as a "change of pace." Indeed, the languid splashes of color in the French master's piece were a contrast to the energetic drive of most of Iberia, but they were as well suited to Hamelin's playing.

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