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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 24 2017

Pianist Marc Andre Hamelin; Photo credit: Fran Kaufman

Are you the sort of person who goes to a dessert buffet, fills a plate with a selection of the best, and then saves the absolute favourite until it is the only one left? Do you save the icing until the rest of the cake is gone? Music Toronto did just that last night. Its Chamber Music Downtown series has been a smorgasbord of delectable offerings that began last fall with the Juilliard Quartet. Pianists, string quartets and piano trios have delighted the audiences at the Jane Mallett Theatre all winter. 

Two weeks ago, Janina Fialkowska, one of this year’s performers, was the host of the CBC Radio programme This Is My Music. She commented on the plethora of world-class Canadian pianists who grew up in the '50s and '60s in the wake of Glenn Gould’s rise to fame. She mentioned André Laplante, Angela Hewitt, Louis Lortie, Jane Coop, Jamie Parker and Jon Kimura Parker. She also singled out Marc-André Hamelin.

It was Marc-André Hamelin who was the “save the best for last - icing on the cake” of the 2016/17 Music Toronto season. Although not originally included in the season brochure, last night’s concert created the most buzz from the largest audience of the year. Concert goers came out in droves to see and hear this astounding pianist.

His program of Haydn, Feinberg, Beethoven, Scriabin and Chopin could be seen as typical for this pianist. He mixed works from the standard repertoire with more obscure music. In each of the works, he seemed to find a different pallet of colours from which he painted tones and textures of remarkable variety.

Hamelin began with Haydn’s Sonata No. 58 in C, Hob. XVI:48, finding a way to caress the keys and make the Steinway that he had hand-picked for the concert sound as if the instrument were a delicate forte-piano that Haydn may have played on himself. In Samuil Feinberg’s Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 2 and Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 1, it was as if a different pianist was at the keyboard. He found all of the post-romantic colours in the music of this rarely heard Russian composer. The first half of the concert concluded with a riveting interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23, in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata). Hamelin once again had a different sound for Beethoven…clear, punctuated, dramatic. His pianissimos were like velvet. His fortissimos were like crashing cymbals.

Following intermission, Hamelin performed Scriabin’s Sonata No. 7, Op. 64, (White Mass), a work that is not often heard perhaps due to its mysterious nature. Hamelin performed with conviction. He concluded his program with the familiar Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat Minor,Op. 35. The funeral march had the darkest of emotional impact. The D flat Major melody that interrupted the movement was as beautiful as one could ever imagine. Hamelin tore through the technically impossible octaves, scales and arpeggios like a stallion at full gallop. From beginning to end, he kept the listener on the edge of their seat.

Born in Montreal in 1961, Hamelin has thrived on the world stage performing and recording regularly both the established piano repertoire and little known gems by obscure composers of the past three hundred years. Hamelin currently resides in Boston, but his career has him performing around the globe.

Hamelin’s orchestral engagements this season have included nine different concertos with the orchestras of Montreal, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Bayerische, NDR Hanover, Gothenburg, Oregon Bologna, Montpellier and Warsaw  He has also given recitals in Vienna, Berlin, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto and Shanghai. As a composer, he has been commissioned to compose a new work for the contestants of the Van Cliburn Festival in May in which he will be a juror.

As for Music Toronto, the current season has now wrapped up, but there is an outstanding line-up in place for 2017-18. Period -instrument ensemble Quatuor Mosaïques will open the season on October 19, 2017. With five great pianists and eight world-class chamber ensembles on the list of performers it should be a remarkable season. More information is on the Music Toronto website:

Music Toronto saves the best for last in its Chamber Music Downtown concert series!