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Ludwig Van
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SCRUTINY | Marc-André Hamelin Fugally Fantastic In Beethoven

By Arthur Kaptainis on April 13, 2022

Marc-André Hamelin (Photo: Sim Cannety-Clarke)
Marc-André Hamelin (Photo: Sim Cannety-Clarke)

The status among pianists of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata brings to mind Mark Twain’s definition of a classic as a book everybody wants to have read but no one wants to read. Its greatness is undisputed, but its difficulties are many and manifest. Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of the 45-minute masterpiece Tuesday in the Jane Mallett Theatre was the first for a Music Toronto audience since 2004, when the pianist was Anton Kuerti.

The wait, if prolonged, was worth it. One could hardly ask for a more natural balance of forward motion and soulful lyricism in the Adagio sostenuto. Soprano and bass lines sang ardently, as in a duet, and with dignity. Stresses were gentle but firm; syncopations, pointed but natural. Momentum never flagged.

After a suspenseful treatment of the transitional introduction came a fugal finale of mesmerising clarity. It is habitual to draw attention to Hamelin’s technical credentials, but there was more to this performance than precision. One had the sense of a ringmaster controlling tigers that could escape at any moment.

There is less to say about the first two movements, which were pretty much by the book, though of course the first was not taken at the unreasonable tempo Beethoven prescribed. Perhaps it is not a bad thing to leave some things in so great a work undone. Footnote for “Hammerklavier” nerds: Hamelin negotiated the opening leaps with two hands, not the left hand alone.

The recital began with C.P.E. Bach’s Suite in E Minor H. 66, written the year after the death of J.S. Bach and sounding distinctly like a tribute to Dad. Lively contrapuntal chases and melancholy laments were given their due. Hamelin was willing to withhold the pedal to create a détaché effect, but this was still a modern-piano interpretation. A few moments in the concluding Gigue sounded unsure.

There were no problems in Scriabin’s 1911 Sonata No. 7 “White Mass,” with its sultry melodies, complex harmonies and unsettling trills. Even more impressive at a pianistic level were Prokofiev’s Sarcasms of 1914, a quirky suite of exercises in defeating expectation. It is tempting to say that Hamelin extracted orchestral sonority from the Fazioli grand, but I am not sure that an orchestration would do justice to the extravagant colours we heard.

Whether the pianist was the first in Canada to give an encore after the “Hammerklavier” cannot be known for certain. It was an odd decision, however softly exquisite his performance of Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau might have been. Then came one of his own short works, a self-descriptive charmer called Music Box. The treble range of the piano had the floor in this.

Listeners were enthusiastic. One hopes the high-pitched whistling sound heard during parts of the Beethoven does not play havoc with the CBC Radio recording of the recital.

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THE SCOOP | National Ballet Of Canada Receives $10 Million Gift Honouring A Lifelong Love Of Dance

By Anya Wassenberg on June 9, 2022

The National Ballet of Canada has received a $10 million gift from Canadian businessman and philanthropist Donald K. Johnson.
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THE SCOOP | RCM Announces Full 2022-2023 Season Of Concerts

By Anya Wassenberg on June 7, 2022

The Royal Conservatory of Music has announced the complete 2022-2023 season, the 14th at Koerner Hall.
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REPORT | The Link Between Music And Movement Leads To Therapies For Mobility Impaired

By Anya Wassenberg on June 2, 2022

Sensors, music, and software — together, they can be used in therapies designed to improve the ability to walk in patients with impaired nervous systems.
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