Saturday, February 20, 2010

Marc-André Hamelin in Recital

Forbes Magazine recently included Kansas City on its list of miserable cities, an exercise in coastal/warm climate elitism frankly. One of their big reasons?... we have two lousy sports teams.

Give me a break.

Hardly miserable is the classical music scene for a city this size. What other "miserable" location had a choice of seeing Marc-André Hamelin in recital or Emmanuel Pahud in concert with the KC Symphony playing the world premiere of a flute concerto written for him by Italian composer Luca Lombardi?

Miserable indeed, as one could only be at one place at a time. I chose the Hamelin on Friday, as luckily the Symphony will repeat the performance on Saturday.

As discussed on the CLassical Music Guide forum a while back, Hamelin is considered by many to be among the best pianists currently performing. His consummate skill, musicality and daring repertoire earn him highest praise. He is a "cool" performer as well, not prone to display and distracting gestures. But he is far from just a cerebral technician; as he demonstrated last night, he can infuse the simplest melody or phrase with grace and glowing beauty.

The program certainly was designed to display Hamelin's formidable talents in a variety of styles: the sublime Haydn Variations in F minor, Mozart Sonata in a, K 310, Liszt "Venezia e Napoli", Fauré "Nocturne # 6 op 63 and the reason for my attendance, Alkan "Symphonie" for solo piano, #s 4-7 of the 12 Etudes op 39.

From beginning to end, the recital was virtually flawless. The Haydn "Variations" (sometimes listed as a sonata) H 17, # 6 received an appropriately romantic performance yet with all the classical clarity intact. The coda was a masterpiece of rhapsodic emotions, the resigned, quiet ending bringing this jewel to a breathtaking ending.

The Mozart Sonata in A minor also received a reading from Hamelin that mined its emotional depths, using its linear motion and minor key to reveal the stormy drama of this sonata, so different in mood from his earlier works.

The Liszt pieces found Hamelin in his element, indeed he only recently added the Mozart to his repertoire, according to an interview published in the local paper. Indeed "Gondoliera" was nothing less than sublime tone painting, the many trills, tremolos and chromatic runs not for show but to literally paint a Venetian scene. A friend who attended the concert and is a frequent visitor to Venice told me he could not help but feel he was on a canal in the Venetian mist. The Canzone and Tarantella sang and danced, as their respective titles would indicate. The torrent of notes never seemed to be just for show in Hamelin's hands, only to communicate a scene.

The Fauré was delightfully serene and dreamy without being coying and sweet. Hamelin relished bringing out the harmonic and rhythmic touches that foreshadowed Ravel and Debussy.

Alkan. What can I say. This music was made for a pianist like Hamelin. If perhaps a little less percussive and rhythmically incisive than the classic Raymond Lewenthal recording, Hamelin commanded the rapid changes from chords to octaves, the huge leaps, cascade of notes and pounding rhythms. But along the way, he highlighted the many Chopinesque and Mozartean passages, contrasting yet also integrating them perfectly with the Lisztian fireworks.

Absolutely brilliant. As an encore, Hamelin performed one of his own compositions, a jazz tinged, impressionistic "Little Prelude".

Who cares if Kansas City has lousy sports teams? With classical music opportunities like this at our fingertips I can escape the "misery" for a while.

Tonight, KC Symphony with the Lombardi Flute Concerto, Beethoven Symphony # 8 and Tchaikovsky "Francesca di Rimini".

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