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Hamelin reveals yet more amazing repertoire

The Jane Mallett Theatre
01/22/2013 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 (transcr. Theodor Szántó)
Gabriel Fauré: Impromtu No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 31 – Barcarolle No. 3 in G-flat, Op. 42
Maurice Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit
Marc-André Hamelin: Variations on a theme of Paganini
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Preludes in G & in G-sharp Minor, Op. 32, No. 5 & No. 12 – Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

M.-A. Hamelin (Courtesy of Music Toronto)

Once again Marc-André Hamelin demonstrated that virtuoso pianistic ability (aka pyrotechnics) does not rule out (and in fact enhances) artistic depth.

The program featured dramatic contrasts throughout, with the light, blithe Impromptu No. 2 of Fauré immediately following Szántó’s self-described “grandiose” transcription of Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor. Fauré’s barcarolle treated us to interesting tonalities while drifting among the Venetian canals. There were more rippling notes in the “Ondine” section of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, but here with some distancing effects, ending with a dying final note that seemed to come from another world. “Le Gibet” conjured up icy stillness and isolation, and “Scarbo” was effectively hair-raising.

After the interval Hamelin presented a work he composed in 2011: Variations on a theme by Paganini. The 10-minutes piece is bizarrely playful, with stretches that seem to be going somewhere but dissolve into nothingness. I think a heard a ghostly reference to the Rachmaninoff Paganini variations amid snatches of drunken ragtime and eruptions of Beethoven and Liszt. Here is Hamelin just goofing around, and very amusing it is.

Then we got some real Rachmaninoff, with absolutely seductive performances of the two preludes listed above (the one in G especially magical), then, without a break, the Piano Sonata No. 2. The work contains subtle pyrotechnics and, of course, the luscious lyricism that put Rachmaninoff on the wrong side of the dominant musical polemic of his day. The finish was big, stormy and orchestral - but still with amazing control.

After the Rachmaninoffian grandeur, the single encore was a sweetly innocent performance of the opening movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16.

The audience was then treated to a very nice reception courtesy of the Province of Québec. Merci!

The recital was presented by Music Toronto, a civic-supported organization that has been presenting solo and chamber performances for over 40 years now in a venue the City of Toronto was recently contemplating selling. It is often simply taken for granted and overshadowed by new splashes in the busy classical scene. Recitals like this one, however, are proof of its value. Long may it prosper.

Michael Johnson



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