Marc-André Hamelin – Wigmore Hall (31 October)

Souvenir de Paganini
Franz Schuberts Märsche für das Pianoforte übertragen
Six Grandes Etudes de Paganini
Sonata in A, D664

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Grahame Woolf

Reviewed: 31 October, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Marc-André Hamelin seemed ill at ease in the first half of his recital. Schubert’s sonata was an odd choice for a pianist whose consummate virtuosity makes him peerless in the most demanding late-19th and early-20th-century repertoire. He over-pedalled, pulled it around with dynamic ’hairpins’ and too much rubato, and generally showed himself out of sympathy with its lyrical simplicity. My ideal account is Gilbert Schuchter playing a Bösendorfer on Tudor CD 744.

Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert marches are inflated grotesqueries; I doubted whether much could be done with them. Liszt combines seven of Schubert’s originals to make three new ones, with many liberties and extravagant decorations. He sets a funeral march against an anticipation of his transcription of the most famous Wedding March (from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I found the whole thing an intolerable farrago, not helped by Hamelin’s uncharacteristic splashes. I am sure his recording (Hyperion CDA67370) is error-free and might even belie my doubts.

It was a different pianist who returned after the interval, poised and relaxed in Chopin’s charming Souvenir de Paganini. Following, and delivered with all the clarity and poise one expects of Hamelin, were Liszt’s Paganini Etudes – including the familiar ’La Campanella’ and ’La Chasse’ – which concludes with a transcription of ten of Paganini’s variations on the famous tune of his solo violin Caprice No.24 (the one that has been quarried by so many composers since). Liszt adds a variation of his own to lead into a thunderous coda, which it was here.

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