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Impetuous abandon

RON BIERMAN is amazed
by the playing of Marc-André Hamelin

Port-Royal    PR2204-2

Marc-André Hamelin. © 1994 Les Disques Port-Royal Records Inc

I like my Rachmaninov with impetuous abandon so I wasn't disappointed with Marc-André Hamelin's performance of the second Sonata. Since Earl Wild is another of my favorites, I compared his performance of the same 1931 version of the work. Tempos and approach are similarly middle-of-the-road in the first two movements, but Horowitz, whom Rachmaninov admired, is the model as Hamelin explodes into the concluding Allegro Molto [listen -- track 3, 0:00-1:02]. I enjoy the fiery performance, though the touch of nobility added by Wild also works.

If the best approach to Rachmaninov is arguable, there is little choice when it comes to the rarely performed and phenomenally difficult Rudepoêma (Savage Poem) of Villa-Lobos. This is inherently fierce music and Hamelin is an ideal interpreter. For reasons not at all obvious, the composer termed Rudepoêma a portrait of Artur Rubinstein, a pianist who had earlier helped his career. Perhaps Villa Lobos had in mind the portrait style of late Picasso, since it's otherwise difficult to hear much of the urbane and gentlemanly virtuoso in the score. The piece was most obviously influenced by the primitive approach popular among Russian expatriates in Paris during the twenties. Rubinstein did premier it, but seldom played the work afterwards. Hamelin has recorded it twice. This older version (1994) is a little over a minute faster than that of his spectacular all Villa-Lobos recording of 1999. The newer version takes the piece a bit more seriously, but remains appropriately feral and has slightly better sound.

Hamelin has made a specialty of fiendishly difficult music. I never listen to one of his recordings without at some point laughing with admiration as he rips with ease through some passage most pianists wouldn't even attempt. He is, though infrequently, sometimes dismissed because of this facility, but it always strikes me as true to the composer's intent rather than showy. Even his flashiest performances are well thought out. He especially has a knack for putting himself in the minds of pianist/composers and playing their music as they must have intended. That's true of his performance here of Chopin's second Sonata. I hope he continues to champion the worthy obscure, but would also like to hear him in additional works from the standard repertoire, particularly some of the more popular concertos.

It may be quite a while before that happens though when there is so much other music to champion. And so this recital concludes with an uncut version of the only surviving work of Schulz-Evler. His Arabesques based on Strauss waltzes from The Beautiful Blue Danube makes a delightful encore in a performance Horowitz would have been happy with [listen -- track 9, 10:06-11:14].

If the program appeals, buy this CD. If the program doesn't appeal, buy it anyway. Hamelin is amazing.

Copyright © 15 February 2003 Ron Bierman, San Diego, California, USA


Marc-André Hamelin

PR2204-2 DDD 68'33" 1994 Les Disques Port-Royal Records inc

Marc-André Hamelin, piano (Steinway)

Rachmaninov: Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 36; Villa-Lobos: Rudepoêma; Chopin: Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 35; Adolf Schulz-Evler: Arabesques on themes by Johann Strauss (The Beautiful Blue Danube)




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Saturday series of shorter CD reviews