Full Range of Heat at Summer Festival
Of the many concerts presented by the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College the New School for Music each summer, the performances of the pianist Marc-André Hamelin are invariably among the most highly anticipated. Accordingly, this year’s Hamelin recital, on Wednesday, drew an overflow crowd of enthusiasts.
Mr. Hamelin’s career path has been unusual, geared more toward connoisseurs than to big audiences. He took a sort of backdoor to widespread recognition, developing a huge repertory and technique on — or outside — the margins of the canon, tirelessly seeking out big bravura works by Romantic and 20th-century composers who were important to the history of pianism but remain somewhat obscure today.
Perhaps the most elegant and least ostentatious of virtuosos, Mr. Hamelin produces prodigies of sound seemingly without effort or concern. He has found his way into more conventional repertory in recent years, showing in particular a welcome interest in Haydn, but he remains a Romantic at heart.
He opened his program here with Haydn’s Sonata in C minor (Hob. XVI:20), and Haydn came off as a proto-Romantic, with fluid pedaling in lyrical moments and dramatic tension in pauses and changes of direction. Not that Mr. Hamelin imposed himself on Haydn. To the contrary, knowing the power Mr. Hamelin was holding in reserve, you had to be impressed — as in his Haydn recordings — with the extraordinary restraint in this nonlabor of love.
Mr. Hamelin was thoroughly in his element in Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, providing a full range of colors and, even before the Presto con fuoco finale, a blazing intensity.
But it was in Schubert’s Sonata in B flat (D. 960) that Mr. Hamelin showed the fullest mastery, giving an epic cast to the first movement and showing a tender sensibility in the second. You knew from the outset, with Mr. Hamelin stressing the separation of the last note of the opening phrase from the slurred notes before, that this would be a gently activist interpretation and reconsideration, and it brimmed with subtleties throughout — little accents of timing, acute attention to harmonic shifts.
But one harmonic shift was far from subtle: the hushed lurch into C sharp minor at the start of the first-movement development seemed positively epochal, appropriately so in Mr. Hamelin’s grand concept of the movement. Many similarly stunning moments stood out from the subtle ones.
The discerning audience, standing and shouting, all but begged for an encore. None came.