[CONCERT REVIEW] Pianist Marc-André Hamelin Tackles Grand Arrangements With Ease

Marc-André Hamelin

Marc-André Hamelin

Canadian pianist and Portland Piano International guest curator Marc-André Hamelin played with a robust love for the piano in front of a crowd at Carnegie Hall, mastering grand arrangements with ease. This time he performed French popular songs and some of the most technically challenging classics in the repertoire.

The eagerly awaited concert was breathtaking, as usual for a performance by Hamelin. It is no wonder why top newspapers have praised his “tremendous power” and technical facility. Hamelin played with a silky "through-line”. He was always caressing that line, seemingly extending the phrasing to emotionally heighten the experience.

His Carnegie Hall program included works by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Schumann and Chopin; Alexis Weissenberg’s arrangements of songs sung by the French pop artist Charles Trénet; and Busoni’s daunting arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne. 

Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor

The master began with Bach, setting the stage for what was to come the whole evening.

The majestic architecture of Bach’s Chaconne rests on the sturdiest, and simplest, of foundations. Its 256 bars are supported by a repeated but ever-evolving bass line that provides the harmonic underpinning for a series of 32 stunningly imaginative variations.

Busoni preserves both the structure and the contrapuntal textures of the original score, while adding colorings and other effects appropriate for piano. At one point, he even instructs the pianist to imitate the sound of trombones.

With its octave doublings, transpositions, and occasional newly composed lines, the Bach-Busoni Chaconne is almost as much Busoni’s work as it is Bach’s.

Alexis Weissenberg’s Six Arrangements Of Songs Sung By Charles Trénet

Like Hamelin, the late Alexis Weissenberg was a pianistic powerhouse with a versatile technique and voracious musical appetite, as well as a serious interest in composition. Some of these pieces were based on jazz or popular music, including the arrangements of six classic mid–20th-century French chansons.

Anyone who is familiar with Trénet’s songs in their original form is bound to be delightfully surprised by what Weissenberg has done with them. 

Hamelin was enraptured with Weissenberg; so much so that he created a score that took a month to create, as he had no idea whether Weissenberg had ever wrote the arrangements down. Hamelin recorded the fruit of his labors on a Hyperion Records CD entitled In a State of Jazz

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cypresses

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s creative juices were often stimulated by nature and natural imagery. Cypresses, composed in 1920, was inspired by the summers he spent between the World Wars in the Tuscan hamlet of Usigliano.

Like many of his early works, Cypresses is written in a rich, delicately nuanced harmonic idiom that reflects the lingering influence of French impressionism. The slow-moving, dirge-like chords that open this miniature tone poem combine with obsessive repetitions of the main melody to cast a spell that is alternately funereal and luminously enchanting. 

Marc-André Hamelin: pianist, composer, and guest curator

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Hamelin began his piano studies at the age of five. He has a discography of more than 60 recordings exclusively for Hyperion Records that include concertos and works for solo piano by such composers as Alkan, Godowsky, and Medtner, as well as brilliantly received performances of Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Shostakovich. Although primarily a performer, Hamelin has composed music throughout his career.

Beginning next season, the highly-acclaimed Portland Piano International will have Hamelin as its first guest curator. Along with his curatorial duties for the 2019/2020 SOLO season, Marc-André Hamelin will perform the first concert of that season.

Hamelin carries his artistry from the East Coast to the West Coast, and all over the world. Audiences are ever-grateful for the experience to watch a legend in the flesh.