Saturday night, I attended a solo recital by Marc-André Hamelin in Harris Hall. The music festival was winding down and only a few concerts would be performed the next day before then the students would scuttle home inspired to practice and the artists would continue touring. I was lucky enough to hear Hamelin twice this year and hear his Variations on a Theme by Paganini, the equivalent of a pianistic marathon, also twice. His Olympic effort was valiant and expressive.
He is one of the most expressive and tender pianists I’ve heard. His touch in his rendition of Debussy’s Images, series 2 (1907) was exquisite. Like a painter’s lightest brushstrokes, his fingers elicited a true sotto voce. Each note rose to the surface of my hearing and clustered with others to draw a sweet lyrical line. Although I was sitting in an audience of many, not quite sold-out, I felt intrusive. I felt I was spying on a pianist having a very private conversation with Claude Debussy. When Marc-André Hamelin plays he seems to be having a dialogue in which he listens very closely, takes suggestions from the composers and then translates that dialogue into a performance that is intelligent and evocative.
The second half of the program was Schubert’s Impromptus, D. 935,op. posth. 142 (1827). Hamelin’s version of yet another virtuosic piece played that evening gave the audience a chance to share his exploration of theme and variation so that both pianist and the listener learned something new from each repeat and new terrain created from this knowledge.