Hamelin’s Kaleidoscopic Delineations
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, Central
Joseph Haydn: Piano Sonata No. 47 in B minor, Hob. XVI/32
Frederic Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Claude Debussy: Préludes - Book II
Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
Marc-André Hamelin (© Fran Kaufman)
French-Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin is renowned for his wide and adventurous repertoire. Under his exclusive contract with Hyperion, his recordings range from Bach to Bernstein, from Alkan to Albéniz, and from Schumann to Scriabin. This ever-questing artist presented a well-balanced program tonight, with two B-minor piano sonatas in the first half (one Classical and one Romantic), and a complete set of Debussy’s Preludes (Book 2).
Under Mr. Hamelin’s fingers, Haydn’s B-minor Sonata was rendered with the most faultless simplicity and clarity, especially during the Mozartian second movement. The cleanliness of tone and minimum of pedaling, together with Hamelin’s Baroque-like ornaments evoked the intonation of a pianoforte, an instrument that Haydn played at his time. The plainspoken, though stunningly delicate articulation gave this pristine account an extra classical taste. Every note was well controlled under Hamelin’s nimble fingers, with blistering filigrees played with utmost evenness and pounding octaves delivered with humble but projecting voice. Though this pianist possesses a highly virtuosic technique, it was merely at the service of music, without any showing off. Throughout, Hamelin found wonderfully felicitous inflections of dynamics, tempo and phrasing, all indicating a questing musical mind at
Chopin’s B-minor Sonata is a much more extensive, dramatic, and technically demanding sonata. Hamelin’s rendition was, again, authentic and yet characterful. While most pianists focus on the dazzling and soaring panache of the right-hand, Chopin’s trademark ploy, Hamelin idiosyncratically drove the lower harmonies with orchestral sonority, giving this pianistic artwork an extraneous orchestral color. Moreover, Chopin’s polyphonic intricacy was never far beneath the surface by Hamelin outlining the rarely heard inner voices with commensurate balance. This was tellingly exemplified in the third movement, in which the bass line was beautifully echoed with the bel canto at the top, accompanied by the most harmonious and intimate chords in the middle. He was very much attuned to the structural elements of the music — the contours of the melodic arc, the architectural layout, the kaleidoscopic modulations, all fully displayed his insightful musical understanding of Chopin’s language. Although the least amount of tempo-rubato was used throughout the whole sonata, Hamelin’s long phrasing arcs and far-reaching arching lines shaped the music with a most naturally cohesive flow and structural sensation. His magnificent artistry and impeccable musicality far outstripped some occasional slips in the final movement.
Debussy’s Preludes in the second half was another extraordinary reading. Hamelin transformed himself into an excellent painter, delineating every color of the spectrum onto the 12 sketches. The barely audible pianissimo in the Mists, the opaque and hasty moon in the Terrace of Moonlit Audiences, the light-footed and elegant fairy dancers, the crystalline articulated Ondine, and the profound but never harsh intonation in Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. and Fireworks, all adumbrated the superfine and most polished paintings from Impressionism.
At the end, Hamelin presented his own miniature composition as an encore. It was a pity that the concert hall was only 70% occupied. Many people may regret missing the superb recital by this pianist, composer, virtuoso, and delineator. We are thankful for the Chopin Society’s organization but the advertisement, promotion, price arrangement, and the program notes have a little room for improvement next time.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui