Marc Andre Hamelin recently played a varied program at the 92Y as part of the Master of the Keyboard series. Hamelin has garnered stellar reviews for his work of late. Known for his technical prowess, the pianist-composer is gaining superlatives for his elegance and sensitivity. One could not help but recognize a cheeky sense of humor throughout, making this concert an interesting balance between light-hearted affairs and more serious works.
The program began with Bach’s Organ Fantasia and Fugue in G minor. The work is dramatic and serious with a decidedly forceful tone. Hamelin did not play the famous Lizt transcription but rather that of the Hungarian pianist composer Theodor Szanto. Szanto studied with Ferruccio Busoni in Berlin an interesting link to the second composition of the evenings course.
Busoni, one of the great atonal composers of the early twentieth century, was a famous non-conformist and mystic. Hamelin played his Sonatina seconda, a complex work without traditional time signature, tonality or harmony. Hamelin’s intimacy with the composition is clear. He was able to draw the crowd further into his own delicate interpretations after the more strident Bach piece. The work concludes in a silent way, a stylistic preference of Busoni’s, pacing into the night before vanishing quietly.
What followed, almost too quickly, were three works from Book 1 of Images by Debussy. These impressionistic works trickled without weight into the wonderfully flirtatious elegance of L’Isle Joyeuse. Debussy found inspiration in Watteau’s painting of 1717, L’embarquement pour Cythere. Cythera is the mythical birthplace of Venus and Debussy is definitely feeling it. The joyous central section in the Lydian mode breaks into the diatonic fanfare of the finale just like an island vacation with a mistress.
After the intermission the comedic Hamelin unveiled his own wry Variations on a Theme by Paganini. This work touching on many familiar instances in classical dialogue produced guffaws from the crowd. The works’ levity belied the technical skill behind it. Rachmaninoff famously had his own Rhapsody on a Theme and it was this composer’s work that concluded the night’s programming.
The precious melody of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G major backed by a bass line of quintuplets was delicately handled. Coupled with the sweetness of Prelude in G Minor these two works were a perfect appetizer to the heart of the performance.
Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2. has many voices, voices that echo in the night. Originally written in 1913, the sonata was simplified through various revisions suggesting that Rachmaninoff was never quite right with it. Hamelin played the late version from 1931 that was influenced by Rachmaninoff’s friend and confidant Vladmir Horowitz. Hamelin hammered the first movement and was able to hypnotize with second. The luscious resolution lingered in the fine acoustics of the 92Y.
Hamelin concluded the concert with two short encores. One, the opening of Mozart’s Sonata in C, commonly described as “the little Sonata for beginners” and secondly, Chopin’s “Minute” waltz which alludes to a dog chasing it’s tail. He played both charmingly, thereby completing the jocular theme of supposed abbreviations and improvisation while producing more hearty laughter from those assembled. Hamelin shows that nothing is easy when playing from the heart as opposed from the head. As Rachmaninoff had noted, (excuse the paraphrase) it is easy to be calculating but not so easy to exalt with music. Hamelin is minding the gap.