Pianist Marc-André Hamelin fast and fearless at MCO season opener
Marc-André Hamelin proved Wednesday that he’s not just one of the world’s top pianists, but also a fearless musical explorer.
LUCKILY, the Montreal-born artist took 582 of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra’s fans along for the ride as the 44-year old chamber ensemble opened its 2015-16 season. The program led by Anne Manson featured a classic sandwiched by two 20th-century MCO premières.
Georgian composer’s Giya Kancheli’s powerhouse Valse Boston (1996), composed for piano and string orchestra, is inspired by the Boston Waltz, a slow Americanized version of the Viennese waltz introduced in the 1830s. The piece churns with stark emotional contrasts, beginning with a loud, single keystroke on the piano that resonates like a warning shot in the dark.
Hamelin, ably accompanied by the MCO players, displayed fierce concentration, navigating the work’s ghostly hazes of string harmonics and pounding piano clusters.
By contrast, Ukrainian composer Valentyn Sylvestrov’s The Messenger (Der Bote) for synthesizer, piano and string orchestra is a dreamy excursion. The CFX Yamaha concert grand shipped from Vancouver especially for the concert, showed off the pianist’s luminous tone and legato phrasing to full advantage.
The haunting work is not technically taxing for Hamelin, but what it does demand is utmost sensitivity and spirit of willingness to fully embrace its postmodern ethos. Fortunately, Hamelin’s adventuresome artistry ensured success on both counts. Fragments of quasi-Mozartian themes drift in and out, in which the Wunderkind himself seems to rise from the grave as a ghostly messenger before the piece finally reaches its enigmatic open ending. The only flaw proved to be an overly quiet live synthesizer track of evocative wind gusts, effectively heard only at the beginning and end of the eight-minute piece.
The program also (cleverly) included Mozart’s Symphony No.25, in G minor (K183/173dB), which he penned as a 17-year old in 1773. Under Manson’s crisp direction, the orchestra launched into its opening Allegro con brio with all guns blazing that resulted in shrill strings (at times) and errant notes in the horns as they valiantly attempted to keep the overly brisk pace. The following Andante provided little respite, until the more genteel solo winds during the third movement’s Trio section served as ballast for the storms. Thankfully, the finale Allegro received a lighter treatment with a rhythmic bounce in its step that helped propel the work to its triumphant close.
Winnipeg Free Press, 16 October 2015
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
4 stars out of 5