, November 2007
Over the past two decades, Marc-Andre Hamelin has done more to expand notions of the keyboard literature than any other pianist. The 45-year-old, Quebec-born Philadelphian is famous for conquering the most difficult, obscure corners of the repertoire, heightening our appreciation of such composers as Alkan, Godowsky, Catoire, Medtner, Roslavets and Sorabji over dozens of recordings (mostly for Hyperion). Following soon after a previous, flawed Hamelin DVD profile ("It's All About the Music"), this entry as part of the excellent "Legato: The World of the Piano" DVD series includes a half-hour portrait feature, 75-minute interview and a full concert; together, these deepen our view of this musical prestidigitator.
The portrait presents Hamelin preparing a program for a festival recital that goes against the grain of his reputation by including standard pieces by Haydn, Chopin and Debussy. (He points out, though, that another concert in the festival featured him playing more typically intrepid pieces by Ives and Villa-Lobos.) Rehearsing a Haydn E-major sonata (Hob. XVI:31) for the first time, he demonstrates one of his tricks for memorizing a piece, as he says, "in my fingers." Hamelin also pages through Debussy's Preludes Book II, illustrating how he goes about realizing the composer's aim of conjuring sounds beyond the piano.
The concert, filmed with ideal sound last June in Germany, sees Hamelin perform the Haydn as a marvel of meditative rhythm. His way with Debussy's sonorous magic combines textural lucidity and sensual atmosphere to a degree that would've made Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli green with envy. Hamelin's Chopin Third Sonata is more crystalline and less romantic than usual, for better or worse. His encores are charmers by Gershwin, plus one of the pianist's own beautiful creations -- a hushed left-hand Etude based on a Tchaikovsky lullaby.
As articulate in the in-depth interview as he is in performance, Hamelin offers grist for settling the often absurd debates over technique vs. expression by saying, "I regard technique as the complete means for an artist to realize their art. That doesn't just mean agility and independence; it means also the capacity to channel, project and communicate your emotions."
Hamelin comes across like a diamond cutter with soul. He's not only a pianist's pianist; he's a music lover's pianist.