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Marc-André Hamelin

Haydn: Sonata in E Minor, Hob.XVI:34
Schumann: Carnaval, Op.9

Stefan Wolpe: Passacaglia
Debussy: Preludes (nos. 3, 4, 12 from Book II)
Liszt: Reminiscences de Norma
Chopin Nocturne Op 27/2

April 13, 2011 Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London

An extraordinary recital, very much one in two halves.

At the interval, I'd wondered if he'd maybe just come off a plane and was playing on auto-pilot, he'd given such a bizarre account of the Haydn sonata, its first movement especially eccentric in its wilful distortions (pace the programme notes writer, who thought that sonata might have been held back from publication "until more people had the new-fangled piano on which to play it".) I trust the QEH audience didn't suppose that what we heard on a Steinway concert grand was therefore somehow authentic?

Schumann's Carnaval too was disappointing, with many an ugly clangorous tone from the big beast on the platform, and arbitary readings of several of the pieces, leaving us sorry to have encountered the imperturbable Hamelin on an (unusual) off day... [q.v. our welcomes for Rolf Plagge's Carnaval at Maulbronn and, from Hamelin, a Schumann CD we'd enjoyed and, with no reservations whatsoever, his peerless new Liszt for Hyperion.]

After the interval, a totally different recital. A fabulous account of one of Wolpe's most daunting and dense piano works, played from memory, and eclipsing David Holzman's Passacaglia in his admirable new traversal of the complete Wolpe solo piano works [Bridge Records, Stefan Wolpe Vol 6], which I re-heard on my iPod on the way home! With his unmatchable technique Hamelin (playing it from memory !) was able to bring in subtleties of voicing and piano tone at another level.

Three lovely Debussy preludes enabled us to catch our breeaths before his barnstorming Bellini/Liszt (Norma) which was appropriately right over the top & was not to be criticised, although for us the pyrotechnics, which ensured a standing ovation, outstayed their welcome. Peace was restored with the perfect encore, a lovely Chopin Nocturne.

Peter Grahame Woolf

(Whenever I encounter Wolpe, I think back to his remarkable Enactments for three pianos, curated by Harrison Birtwistle at the South Bank summer festival, in those long gone days before it had been given over to popular fare.)

See also Classical Source for a different view. PGW