Hamelin closes Celebrity Series season with singular keyboard artistry

May 6, 2017 at 11:10 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Marc-André Hamelin performed Friday night at Jordan Hall. Photo: Robert Torres

Marc-André Hamelin performed Friday night at Jordan Hall. Photo: Robert Torres

Pianist Marc-André Hamelin is in a class unto himself. His technique is formidable, his interpretations of works thoughtful and robust. He is, indeed, a pianist’s pianist.

In his solo recital at Jordan Hall Friday night, which brought the Celebrity Series’ classical music season to a close, he offered a characteristically wide range of works that put his powers as a musician on full display.

Hamelin has a knack for programming music not normally heard in recitals. That was the case Friday night, when he offered two sonatas by Samuil Feinberg.

Feinberg’s reputation as a pianist and composer was strong in his native Soviet Union. But in the West he remains little known,except to piano aficionados. He was the first Soviet pianist to perform Bach’s completeWell-Tempered Clavier. As a composer, he wrote works modeled on the sonatas of Scriabin, a figure with whom he had a personal connection.

His first two piano sonatas, heard Friday, were composed in 1915. Both are cast in a single movement, each clocking in at about ten minutes. With their cascading figures, plush harmonies, and flowing textures, these pieces bring to mind the style of Debussy.

Yet there’s a touch of Scriabin’s sweltering, chromatic style within these pieces. Phrases swell in almost ecstatic gestures. Hamelin approached both sonatas with sturdy touch and creamy tone. Passages rose and fell like breath in the Second Sonata. The First, with its mix of soft and bold colors, flowed in long resonant lines.

In Scriabin’s Sonata No. 7, which introduced the second half of the program, dense clusters of harmonies spread about the keyboard like a fan. Known as the “White Mass,” the sonata was written as a kind of exercise in exorcism as Scriabin was terrified he had awakened demonic forces with his Sixth Sonata. The Seventh, though, has its own touches of darkness as it unfolds in haunting passages. Hamelin mined the mystery from this work. Textures coalesced and dissolved like clouds, and the full passages sounded with edge and power.

Hamelin is an expert stylist, and he conjured sounds from the keyboard that seemed ideal for each work. In Haydn’s Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI: 48, which opened the program, his touch took on a smooth grace. The phrases of the second of its two movements moved with the vigor of a dance. There was also a great sense of freedom in Hamelin’s interpretation. The opening movement had just the right touch of ebb and flow to the tempo, the music, under Hamelin’s fingers, given room to breathe. The passages in the minor key were dramatic without the pianist sacrificing elegance.

In Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, that freedom transformed into urgency. The cascading figures of the outer movements culminated in furious lines. The opening theme of the first movement had equal parts darkness and refinement, and Hamelin handled the composer’s abrupt shifts in mood with command and energy. In the second movement, he brought a reverential, sunlit glow to the theme and variations.

In lieu of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, which was listed in the program booklet, Hamelin performed Schumann’s Fantasie, Op. 17. As in the Beethoven, phrases were sweeping and bold in color. The work unfolded like a drama. The first movement had a sense of symphonic arc. The second, with its string of dotted rhythms, had clarity and precision. The finale was gorgeous, Hamelin conjuring phrases of searching lyricism and tender glow.

His encores were similarly tasteful. Schubert’s Impromptu in A-flat, Op. 142, No. 2 was a scene of dreamy musicality, while Moszkowski’s Waltz in E major, Op. 34, No. 1 seemed to glide in the air.

The first classical music event of Celebrity Series’ 2017-2018 season will feature Quatuor Mosaïques in music by Mozart and Haydn 8 p.m. October 14 at Jordan Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617- 482-6661


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Hamelin closes Celebrity Series season with singular keyboard artistry”

  1. Posted May 09, 2017 at 6:25 pm by Terry Decima

    Mr. Keebaugh hit the nail on the head a “pianist’s pianist.” Rarely do we hear an artist of this accomplishment who can traverse the many styles and periods of piano literature with such technical facility, intellect, grace, and ability to move listeners. He often offers in his recitals pieces which we do not regularly hear, this time the Samuil Feinberg sonatas which he has recorded. Incidentally, he has also recorded the Busoni Piano Concerto, no small feat for any pianist. He seems fearless when it comes to challenging repertoire. Continue on, Mr. Hamelin, and hopefully in Boston.

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