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Music Reviews : Pianist Hamelin At Ambassador

January 22, 1986|ALBERT GOLDBERG

Not many debuting young pianists are willing to risk as much as did Marc-Andre Hamelin in opening the Gold Medal Series at Ambassador Auditorium on Monday. The Montreal-born musician arrived with the usual contest victories to back his aspirations, most recent being the first prize at the 1985 Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition.

Hamelin is not at all the usual competition winner. Rather than parading the same tired old warhorses, he devoted the first half of his program to Volume II of George Crumb's "Makrokosmos," 12 fantasy-pieces for what the program described as amplified piano.

The instrument called for by Crumb bore similarities to John Cage's now-standard "prepared piano." During the 35-minute performance all manner of gadgets were added to and subtracted from the instrument's interior, and the score called for the player to scratch the strings by hand, to whistle and make odd vocal sounds. Instant electronic playback was also required.

None of this can any longer be considered revolutionary. But the expressive communication far surpassed that of similar avant-garde manifestations. The distinctly personal and prepossessing work commands attention by its intensity, forcefulness and wide play of imagination. For all the extravagances, it belongs in the mainstream.

Hamelin negotiated his complicated tasks with masterful poise and authority and a well-calculated display of showmanship that adroitly enhanced the message.

Having paid his dues to contemporary music, he settled down to more conventional virtuoso business, offering a moving account of Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata, technically complete and musically persuasive, and endowing Liszt's "La Leggerezza" Etude and the Tarantella from "Venezia e Napoli" with a fine display of lightness of tone and shimmering virtuosity. Gratefully, the bombast was glossed over.

William Bolcom's jazzy "Poltergeist" from "Three Ghost Rags" served as a stunning encore.

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