Prom 36, Royal Albert Hall, review: Marc-Andre Hamelin dazzles in Ravel's left-hand concerto

Hamelin found the ideal touch and tone for a piece with a fascinating story

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The Independent Culture

Pianist Paul Wittgenstein, brother of philosopher Ludwig, was quite a guy. His response to losing his right arm in World War One was not to wallow in self-pity, but to work like crazy on his left-hand technique, and commission left-hand concertos from the best composers of the day. But if he didn’t like them, he didn’t play them: he never played Prokofiev’s. When Ravel played him the solo part in his own concerto, Wittgenstein disliked that too, and though he later softened towards it, he insisted on playing it in a way Ravel didn’t like.

Marc-Andre Hamelin was the soloist in this with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Francois-Xavier Roth, and – if I may be permitted a horrible pun – he made a brilliant fist of it. Since the work dwells largely in the piano’s smoky lower regions, Hamelin found the ideal touch and tone, but his lyrical flights and virtuoso cascades had such richness and amplitude that one completely forgot it was all from just one hand. His two-handed Debussy encore had lovely grace and power.

This Prom revealed more of Edward Blakeman’s inspired juxtapositions, with Boulez’s ground-breaking Figures-Doubles-Prismes followed by the same composer’s orchestration of Ravel’s intricate Frontispice, after which we wound up with Stravinsky’s Firebird. The orchestral playing was exemplary throughout.

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