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January 28, 2013

Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin gives compelling recital at Shriver Hall

From the very first chord, there was no doubt that Marc-Andre Hamelin's recital Sunday evening for the Shriver Hall Concert Series was going to be compelling.

That chord, which launched a transcription by Tivadar Szanto of Bach's G minor Fantasia and Fugue for organ, was articulated not just with terrific force, but a delectable richness of tone as well.

Hamelin, justly famed for his technical prowess, seemed to be saying: Who needs a pipe organ to make this music shake the place?

He offered myriad dynamics; he articulated the trickiest of passages without the slightest trace of effort; he delivered expressive impact with every phrase.

You could same the same for the rest of the program, which celebrated the full range of the piano (made you feel a little sorry for those pianists who have gravely decided to focus squarely on the sacred Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert canon).

Hamelin's evident delight in every one of the 88 keys could not have been more obvious than in ... 

his own composition, Variations on a Theme of Paganini, a wild and witty piece that had many in the audience laughing at each surprise along the way. In addition to droll quotations from the likes of Beethoven and Liszt, there are clever references to -- even some deconstruction of -- Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody.

Rachmaninoff also figured prominently on the recital. Hamelin tore into the Second Sonata with a blend of startling bravura and white-hot lyricism, creating an action-packed tone poem. Two Preludes (Nos. 5 and 12) from Op. 32 were exquisitely sculpted.

Hamelin's subtle side also found a potent outlet in Busoni's rarely heard Sonatina No. 2, a work with hallucinatory harmony, a sense of moonlit mystery. The pianist maintained remarkable tension here, and made the elusive music speak eloquently.

Hamelin moved without a break into another harmonically misty world, delivering Debussy's "Images" (Book 1) and "L'Isle Joyeuse" with a coruscant tone and finely nuanced phrasing.

The overflow house (seats were added onstage) clearly wanted more after the last thunderous rush of the Rachmaninoff sonata brought the program to a close. Hamelin obliged with a disarming about-face as an encore -- the famous movement of Mozart's C major Sonata (K. 545) that every piano student tackles before long.

This music is light years away, in style and keyboard range, from the recital's sound world, but Hamelin made it just as fulfilling. His tonally delicate, rhythmically elastic handling of the first theme's recapitulation was but one magical touch, one more reminder of this pianist's distinctive artistry.


Posted by Tim Smith at 10:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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