Arts: Classical - Edgy and overdone

MARC-ANDRE HAMELIN WIGMORE HALL ALFRED BRENDEL ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL LONDON
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The Independent Culture
FOR MARC-ANDRE Hamelin's series of three Wigmore Hall recitals on the theme of "Exploration and Celebration", a London firm, Jacques Samuel, has supplied a century-old Steinway. Its limpid, slightly damp sound was fine in Medtner's teeming E minor Sonata, Night Wind, lending its continuous 30 minutes of effusive warmth a suitably period aura. But in Schubert's final Sonata in B flat, Hamelin appeared a little less at ease. He isn't usually a player to agonise - his technical facility allows him to be rather understated. Yet in the first movement he seemed to be searching in the dark, and rather afraid of it; he omitted the repeat and was inclined to make rhythms fidgety, and sometimes to rush, as if he feared serenity might send us to sleep.

In the second movement he let himself enjoy the music. Then he took the Scherzo really fast, until the central Trio section, when he changed down at least two gears. And he dispensed with any hint of cuteness in the folksy rondo theme of the final movement, playing it briskly, with no nonsense.

Hamelin's last recital will include Godowsky's preposterous elaboration's of Chopin's Etudes and Frederic Rzewski's crazy and stirring Variations on The People United - both real collectors' items.

Alfred Brendel brought the South Bank Piano Series to a close on Thursday with a recital of Viennese classics after his own heart - or perhaps that should be head. In Haydn's graceful E minor Sonata H34, he overdid "interpretation" with excessive dynamic shadings and a tetchy style of attack. He followed it with Schubert's late A major Sonata, perhaps the most impressive. Its final movement is a wonderfully unforced summation, and Brendel took it in his stride, so that it didn't seem a note too long. In the first movement he had blown with the wind, creating a rather tempestuous account of Schubert's grand design, and he worried at the slow movement as if afraid that simplicity might become lifeless, even before the stormy episode, where his slightly cramped articulation reduced the music's colossal disruptive power.

In the second half Brendel conceded nothing to his audience's frailty and asked for no applause between the works, which were all by Mozart. Frankly, it felt like a long haul. Though he evoked orchestral grandeur in the C minor Fantasy, the work does have its longueurs, and needed something tighter, crisper than the expansive A minor Rondo to follow. Then the A major Sonata K331, with its long opening set of variations made for an awful lot of the same key, since all the movements are in A major or minor. It was played impeccably, needless to say, but neither simplicity nor charm is Brendel's strong suit, and I for one felt I had been lectured rather than enraptured.

Marc-Andre Hamelin's last recital is at the Wigmore Hall on Tuesday. Booking: 0171-935 2141

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