Marc-André Hamelin – review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

This was not a programme designed to leave any doubts about Marc-André Hamelin's mastery of the piano, so it was probably unintentional that its high point should have been the least obviously taxing piece of all. But his three Debussy preludes, in particular La Puerta del Vino, its slowly strumming chords ringing like a Spanish guitar, had a quiet sense of line that on this occasion tended to go by the wayside when the notes came thicker and faster.

His encore performance of Chopin's Nocturne in D flat, Op 27 No 2, was another thing of beauty one wouldn't have expected from hearing the first half of this concert, in which phrasing seemed disappointingly low on Hamelin's list of priorities. Haydn's E minor Sonata Hob XVI 34 found the composer experimenting with the possibilities of the new-fangled fortepiano; but Hamelin, playing on a modern Yamaha grand, made the rhythmic bits sound mechanical and the quirky bits unrhythmic.

The 22 brief movements that make up Schumann's Carnaval were a mixed bag. The best, including the Adagio, were lovely; the worst were hurried and heavy, revealing little other than Hamelin's agile fingerwork. However much thought was going into the performance, it wasn't translating into thoughtful playing.

That changed in the second half. Hamelin began with Stefan Wolpe's Passacaglia, a 1936 score revised in 1971 that wears its 12-note serialism lightly. It was unfamiliar to most of the audience but certainly not to Hamelin, playing as ever from memory, and persuasively, too. Perhaps the mood of concentration enhanced his playing of the Debussy, which followed. Finally, there was Liszt's Reminiscences on tunes from Bellini's opera Norma, a barnstorming showpiece. Amid all the bluster, Hamelin seemed to have remembered how to sing.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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