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Marc-André Hamelin at Wigmore Hall

Haydn Piano Sonata in B minor, HXVI:32
Chopin Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58
Debussy Preludes – Book II

How does one review Hamelin, famous for his easy impeturbable virtuosity at the pianistic limits, presented without a jot of visible display or contrived "charisma'?

That facility was a handicap in Haydn. It was a very mannered performance, calculated and controlled, without a spark of a feeling that he was thinking the music "now". The first four bars of the B minor sonata gave it away. He pointed the transition to the third bar with a fetching, expressive rit and a lightening of tone which had a certain charm, uncalled for though it be.

But the same effect, repeated exactly the same some ten times in the movement diminished it to a mannerism, and his imposed notions throughout left me wondering if he'd ever let a fortepiano teach him how it might have gone in the late 18th C ? (q.v. Olga Tverskaya).Classical Source opined that "Hamelin and Haydn do not really mix", to which I would add "Steinway..."

Hamelin predicably rose to the demands of the most difficult and subtle of Debussy's Préludes. During the performance of the whole book as published, I had the thought that the composer might not have envisaged each of his two "books" being performed straight through with appreciation postponed until the very end.

Chopin's B minor Sonata was finely conceived, but again presented - immaculately - with careful planning, giving an uncanny sense of listening to a high quality CD in sonically near ideal circumstances (the near silent ambience of Kings Place last week brought to notice that the electrics of the refurbished Wigmore Hall are far from free of a high-pitched sound which one can mostly put out of mind except in very quiet music, but would better have been eliminated by the engineers?).

It all made for a very "serious" recital, perhaps showing that Wigmore Hall, with its loyal audience, is not the place for the confrontation of different musics celebrated at the opening of Kings Place. I wished that he might, instead, have given us a few of his Godowsky/Strauss arrangements [ - - breathtaking clarity with which he articulates even the most ferocious passages in his latest spectacular CD The Guardian]
- ***** in Musical Criticism.

I consoled myself by supposing that Hamelin's agent would have encouraged him to at least give us one or two of the Godowsky arrangements as encores. But no, we had instead an exquisitely turned Chopin nocturne to send us out soothed and protected from the hurly-burly of London in crisis.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Marc Hamelin's Chopin
Hyperion CDA 67706

Berceuse in D flat major, Op 57
Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor, Op 35
Nocturnes Op 27 No & 2
Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op 60
Piano Sonata No 3 in B minor, Op 58

Hamelin's new Chopin disc, recorded over five days in 2007, is faultless. Paradoxically, the 3rd sonata and one of the Op 27 nocturnes had more immediacy and intimacy heard in a domestic setting; originally much of this music would have been heard in lady hostesses' salons.

The recording quality is magnificent and whilst listening one puts out of mind other accounts of these staple repertoire works, some of which are probably performed ever day in every great city. I am reluctant to go into details; you can hear generous samples on line. This disc will take a high place in anyone's Chopin collection.