Chaotic Yet Pensive, Pounding the Keys
Villa-Lobos wrote his “Rudepoêma” — a 20-minute solo work sometimes described as “ ‘The Rite of Spring’ meets the Brazilian jungle” — as a portrait of the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, a friend who had championed his music. Villa-Lobos said he wanted to portray Rubinstein’s “true temperament” in the work.
It’s easy to understand why Rubinstein was taken aback when he saw the unremitting brutality of the score, as the pianist Marc-André Hamelin explained before performing it on Sunday evening at Mannes College the New School for Music. He said he hoped listeners wouldn’t report him to Steinway, referring to the pounding on the keys in the final moments.
Mr. Hamelin offered a typically virtuosic performance of the whirlwind, chaotic work, whose driving rhythms and cluster chords are interspersed with brief moments of pensive respite. After the Villa-Lobos, which concluded his concert at the annual International Keyboard Institute and Festival, Mr. Hamelin played a tranquil morsel by Godowsky: “The Gardens of Buitenzorg,” from the “Java Suite.”
The Keyboard Institute and Festival has become a perennial favorite among piano aficionados, who flock to Mannes to enjoy pianists of international standing, like Mr. Hamelin, as well as a strong lineup of lectures, master classes and concerts by young artists. Because of the college’s impending relocation to Greenwich Village, the festival will not take place next summer, but given its status as a vital event on the New York calendar, you certainly hope it will be reinstated after that.
Mr. Hamelin, who has resuscitated the works of many obscure composers, has just as strong a track record in repertory standards. He opened his program with a beautifully nuanced interpretation of Mozart’s Sonata in D (K. 576), played with a warm, pearly tone and exacting touch that rendered the yearning Adagio particularly gorgeous.
He brought an equally appealing warmth to Schubert’s Sonata in A (D. 664), playing with singing lines and soulful introspection. Also included on the first half of the program was a richly textured performance of the Allegro con strepito in A minor, the sixth piece in Liszt’s “Soirées de Vienne,” a set of nine pieces modeled on works by Schubert.
Mr. Hamelin has also championed the works of Fauré, a composer of elegant, enigmatic piano works that reflect the influence of Liszt, Chopin and Saint-Saëns. Here, he offered gracious, unsentimental interpretations of the Barcarolle No. 3, Impromptu No. 2 and the Nocturne No. 6.