Classical Music Guide Forums - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - Written by Donald Isler

Rabotkina and Hamelin

Daria Rabotkina

Schumann: Humoreske in B-Flat Major, Op. 20
Busoni: Variations and Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor, Op. 22
Prokofiev: Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75
Hamelin: Etude No. 3 (d’aprés Paganini-Liszt)

Daria Rabotkina is a young Russian pianist who received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Mannes College, and won the 2007 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. Her programming is ambitious and original, and the results are impressive.

The final work on the recital (not counting an encore written by her husband, William McNally, the lovely and wistful Hill Springs Rag) was an etude by Marc-André Hamelin, based on La Campanella. A typically brilliant and complicated Hamelinian tour-de-force, she played it (as she played everything else) with apparent ease. It was somewhat astonishing to discover, afterwards, that she had learned it within a month.

Ms. Rabotkina began the recital with Schumann’s long, strange but wonderful Humoreske. Her warm and noble phrasing in the slow sections, particularly the opening, contrasted with the athleticism and power she brought to the fast parts.

Busoni’s Variations, in which one hears the melody of the theme before the original Chopin version of the piece appears, was fascinating, and included what sounded like both a waltz, and a concluding toccata. Ms. Rabotkina, who likes to speak to the audience about the music, mentioned that Busoni varies the key, rhythm, and I think, other parts of the structure in this difficult work, which, most likely, few people even in this pianophile audience had heard before.

Perhaps most impressive, technically, musically and in every respect, was her performance of the Prokofiev Pieces from Romeo and Juliet. One doesn’t want to stereo-type, ie. assume that a Russian artist should play Russian music well but, nevertheless: Daria Rabotkina is a fantastic Prokofiev pianist! Nothing one could have wished for was missing from this performance. She “acted out” all the parts of this work, showing the work’s lushness and elegance, jagged edges, and youthful ardor. She never missed a coloristic opportunity. And it all sounded effortless.

This listener would be happy to hear her again.

Marc-André Hamelin

C.P.E. Bach: Sonata in E Minor, Wq. 59, No. 1, H. 281
Janacek: Seven Pieces from On An Overgrown Path
Debussy: Images, Book I
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5

Marc-André Hamelin occupies a unique place in the world of pianists. Without question he is one of the greatest virtuosos now before the public. Never content to just play the Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Brahms concerti, and solo works of similar difficulty, he has searched out unusual repertoire, plus he has composed some astonishingly complicated and effective pieces. And, in his non-egotistical, non-flashy manner, as a musician who also has much to say when the notes are not flying by, he is something of a hero to the audience at the IKIF.

C.P.E. Bach’s little-known E Minor Sonata caught one’s attention immediately with its volatility in the somewhat disturbing first movement, enhanced, of course, by the terrific evenness of Mr. Hamelin’s passagework. The slow movement seemed rather like an improvisation, whereas the third movement was quirky, with a surprise, sudden ending.

Before playing the Janacek Mr. Hamelin asked the audience if the program listed the names of the individual movements of which it is comprised. (For the record, they are: Our evenings, A windblown leaf, Come with us!, They chattered like swallows, Words fail!, In tears, and Good night.) These are wonderful, warm late Romantic pieces, ever so slightly reminiscent of Bartok, but in Janacek’s unique idiom. I don’t know how literally the composer meant these titles, or if they were just after thoughts to add a coloration to the listener’s thoughts. But one wondered what the meaning of the resolution to the major at the end of They chattered like swallows could signify. There was much turmoil to be heard in Words fail. In tears showed how powerful emotions can be expressed very softly. And one felt that surely there was some conflict, some unresolved business at the end of Good night.

Mr. Hamelin’s performance last year of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit came across as an artwork in which everything was perfectly in place, and nothing could be improved upon. His playing of the first book of Images this evening made a similar impression. Reflets dans l’eau was sensuous, without having (or needing) the huge dynamic range we heard in the Michelangeli recording at David Dubal’s lecture the other night. Hommage à Rameau was pensive, and Mouvement was terrific, with Mr. Hamelin’s perfect execution of the difficult jumps, plus the great wash of sound and the outbursts that are all part of it.

The Brahms Sonata, which occupied the second half of the program, received a serious (though not solemn) and deeply felt reading. The first two movements were a bit slower than some people may play them, but effective, and thoughtful. There were many examples of Mr. Hamelin’s sensitivity to color, and his ability to do beautiful voicing. Also impressive was his playing of the chorale in the middle of the third movement.

Mr. Hamelin played two encores. The first was a poetic reading of the Rachmaninoff G-Sharp Minor Prelude. After making some amusing comments about people who wonder if the Minute Waltz of Chopin can be played within a minute, he gave us his latest “take” on this work. First he played a lovely “serious” and spacious account of the theme and the middle section. He then returned to the main section, adding the most outrageous and brilliant chromatic counter-melody to the theme. When asked, after the concert, if perhaps George Antheil might be the inspiration for this new version, Mr. Hamelin shrugged, grinned and said “Maybe!?”

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