Concert Review: Marc-André Hamelin at The University of Washington

Marc-André Hamelin

Three nights ago, in his second appearance in Seattle in the past year, pianist Marc-André Hamelin gave a recital at Meany Hall at the University of Washington, and, as is typical for Hamelin, the program included both the well-known and the unknown. He led off with Bach’s magnificent Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin, in its transcription for piano by Busoni. This is a colossal work, one I have written about at some length elsewhere on this blog. I will add only that Hamelin’s interpretation was in every way worthy of Bach and Busoni’s creation. Bravo to all three!

Concluding the first half of the program was the Sonata No. 3 by Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962). This was the first time I’ve heard this sonata, which was written in 1916 and which is, perhaps, more accessible than the Sonata No. 4, which I heard Hamelin play last year. The Sonata No. 3 is a giant piece, full of thorny complexities and challenging harmonies, and an extraordinary workout for the pianist. It is also a cry from the heart, and for me at least, it was the centerpiece of the recital. Feinberg was a composer of obvious gifts and startling originality. How is it possible that his music has remained in the backwater of the piano repertoire for so long?

But not any more! Hamelin has been programming Feinberg in his recitals for some time, and is planning to release an album of the first six of his twelve sonatas. I have to wonder if in years to come, Feinberg’s name will forever be linked with that of Hamelin.

Hamelin rightly recognized the effect that the Feinberg sonata might have had on the audience, and before embarking on the second half of his program, he remarked, “I hope the following will provide a little bit of relief from what you just heard.” The piece that followed – Alexis Weissenberg’s “Six Arrangements of Songs Sung by Charles Trenet” (1950) – was well-chosen for that purpose. The six pieces brought to mind words like tuneful, charming, boisterous, humorous, elegant, and wistful, but regardless of the mood, there is something unmistakably French about these arrangements. Listening to them, I could easily imagine myself in Paris, overhearing music emanating from a nightclub somewhere down the street.

Here is a video from 2009 of Hamelin playing the third piece from this set, “En avril, à Paris” (April in Paris).

Next on the program was another piece that was new to me, “Cypresses”, by the Italian-American composer Mario Castelnuovo­-­Tedesco (1895-1968). Composed in 1920, “Cypresses” is a very inward looking piece and reveals a strong influence of Debussy. In it, Hamelin created a sustained, reflective atmosphere, at least until it was rudely interrupted by a cellphone in the row behind me.

The final two works on the program were both by Chopin: the Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61 and the Scherzo No. 4 in E Major. In the Polonaise-Fantasie, Hamelin adopted a more relaxed tempo than one often hears, which lent it a more introspective quality. Hamelin obviously has a deep love for Chopin, which together with his extraordinary touch, made of this well-known piece a very personal statement. The Scherzo No. 4 is the most light-hearted of Chopin’s four scherzi. Although it has its reflective moments, it brought the evening’s program to a close on a joyous, upbeat note.

Everything Hamelin does, he does masterfully, and at the end of his program, the Seattle audience gave him a prolonged standing ovation. In return, Hamelin gave us one encore: Debussy’s “Feux d’artifice” (Fireworks) from Book 2 of his preludes. Here is a video from 2007 of Hamelin performing the same piece.

Without ever neglecting the staples of the piano repertoire, Hamelin has done yeoman’s service in bringing the music of lesser­-known composers to the attention of the public. Whatever he plays, he plays with consummate authority, and like all great pianists, he opens wide a window into his heart and soul. This was my third time hearing him in person. Hopefully there will be many more.

Derrick Robinson

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Published in: on October 20, 2018 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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