Celebrity Series: Marc-André Hamelin, Friday evening, May 4, 2017, Jordan Hall
With a program that flowed from introspective to thrilling, and then back again, Marc-André Hamelin presented yet another elegant recital for the Celebrity Series Friday evening at Jordan Hall.
Most pianists peak at the final chords, the standard practice for sweeping audiences up out of their chairs and creating a positive, concluding memory. Appreciation for Hamelin takes a different form; he can sweep any audience off their feet, but the pleasures of his probing, quiet, lyrical ideas are just as compelling.
So the bravura conclusion of Beethoven’s Appassionata, coming right before intermission, served as the apex of the evening. Leading in with a Haydn sonata (C major, Hob. XVI:48), Andante con espressione, and filing us out with Schumann’s Op. 17 Fantasie, deeply felt, stood as highlights for those who know Hamelin’s work. Perhaps even for those who don’t.
It’s hard not to think of a Hamelin recital without considering it part of a relationship. That has mainly to do with repertory: he introduces works that have slipped out of memory, works he believes in, and presents them with an integrity that he hopes (and which does) brings them back into contemporary focus. He did it with Medtner, whose republished scores are now finding new interpreters. And with Alkan, and Catoire.
In this program, he did it with Samuil Feinberg, the mid-century Russian pianist/composer whose music died with him (1960) largely because his social circumstances. Hamelin played the first two (of 12) sonatas, single movement works that bore traits of Debussy, Scriabin and other Russians, but certainly had their own genuine voice.
The second, A minor, played first, did sound a lot like Debussy right hand, Russian dramatic chords/arpeggios in the left. It made for an atmospheric but still sturdy sound. Lots of cross-hands, and tricky fingerings, also made it seem like a pianist’s pianist work.
It had a compelling sweep, despite its brief seven or eight minutes, as did the first sonata (A major). This sonata had a more directly dramatic appeal, creating a huge crescendo, its final minute a flurry of unusual pitches and strong gestures.
It also called out boldly to Scriabin. And hearing that composer’s White Mass sonata (Op. 64, no. 7) after intermission gave those ideas further clarity. There is something about Scriabin that appeals viscerally; it isn’t easy music, to hear or to play. Chromatic, veering into strange modulations and pitches—it’s a wonder Hamelin doesn’t treat this like a new composition and read the score.
He created a thread to follow this work (he treats memorizing lightly, thinking of it as “following the narrative”), and conveyed it to the listener succinctly. A tour-de-force, understated.
An intimate take on Schumann’s Op. 17 Fantasie closed the night (along with two encores: Schubert and Moszkowski). That improbably long sustain pedal, in the attack from first movement to second, seemed like Hamelin quoting Schlegel, whose inscription Schumann includes in the Fantasie score: “Ein leiser ton gezogen/Für den, der heimlich lauschet” (A light long-drawn note sounds/for the one who listens secretly).
CADENCE: Judge an artist by the number of peers who attend. In the audience: pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Tatyana Dudochkin and Victor Rosenbaum, violinist Lynn Chang, clarinetist Eran Egozy, composer Yehudi Wyner, conductor Susan Davenny Wyner. Original program had Scriabin’s White Mass sonata followed by Chopin’s B-flat minor. Hamelin substituted Schumann’s Op. 17 Fantasie for Chopin, thus changing the lede of every journalist’s review (“From White Mass to Funeral March…”). Not mine of course. Hamelin substitutes for ailing Yefim Bronfman tomorrow at Carnegie Hall, performing with Emerson String Quartet.