DVD - Reseñas

It’s All About the Music

Michael Lukey

jueves, 11 de octubre de 2007
Marc-André Hamelin: It’s All About the Music. Part I: It’s all about the music: the art of Marc-André Hamelin [documentary, 47:48]. Includes interviews with Ronald Stevenson, Robert Rimm, and Andrew Keener, plus Marc-André Hamelin performing music by Albéniz, Alkan, Busoni, Dukas, Godowsky, Hamelin, Kapustin, Liszt, Medtner, Rzewski, and Schubert. Part II: Recital: Hamelin in Charlevoix, Quebec [47:50]. Including interview with Marc-André Roberge (Professor of Musicology, Laval University). Godowsky/Chopin. Seven Studies on Chopin’s Études. Godowsky. The Gardens of Buitenzorg, from Java Suite. Wagner/Liszt. Isoldens Liebestod, S447. Verdi/Liszt. Ernani – Paraphrase de Concert, S432. Sciarrino. Anamorfosi. Antheil. Piano Sonata No. 4, ‘Jazz Sonata’. Part III: Extra Features [25:45]. Interview with Jay Reise (composer). Interview with Harvey Wedeen (Professor of Piano, Temple University). Interview with Robert Rimm (author of The Composer-Pianists: Hamelin and the Eight). Concert performance of Busoni’s Piano Concerto Op. 39, fourth movement, ‘All’ Italiana’, Marc-André Hamelin, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä. Producer/Director: Robert Chesterman (Prometheus Productions). Executive Producer: Eleanor Wilson (Hyperion). One DVD, total playing time 121 minutes. Language: English. Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese. All Regions. Filmed in Canada, USA, Scotland, and England in 2005. Hyperion DVDA68000
This film is divided into two parts, the first consisting of a 50-minute documentary, and the second including a recital of similar duration given by Marc-André Hamelin in Charlevoix, Quebec. With the assumption that most readers will be familiar with the pianism of Hamelin, it seems instructive not to spend too much time discussing the quality of the playing on the present DVD, but rather to focus more on the actual contents of the programme.

Firstly, it should be noted that the documentary does not especially focus on Marc-André Hamelin himself; instead, as the blurb on the case state, it features Hamelin, but looks at ‘the music-making of virtuoso composer-pianists from both the present and the golden age’. After a brief introduction to some of these musicians, with short excerpts played by Hamelin, the pianist himself speaks about his own background and how he came to know the music of Godowsky, Busoni, Alkan, et cetera. Robert Rimm, author of the book The Composer-Pianists: Hamelin and the Eight then explains why he believes that, in certain ways, Hamelin continues the tradition of the composer-pianist. This is followed by Hamelin discussing in more detail the works of Medtner and Godowsky.

Of particular interest in this documentary is the interview with British composer-pianist Ronald Stevenson, who speaks with intelligence and wisdom about composer-pianists in general, and about Busoni in more detail. After a section on ‘Hamelin the composer’, and an interview with recording producer Andrew Keener, the Stevenson interview is continued with a discussion of jazz music - “the main new idea of the Twentieth Century”, as he calls it – with Hamelin playing an excerpt from Kapustin’s Concert Etude, Op. 40 No. 7. The film concludes with some comments from Hamelin on Alkan, followed by a large excerpt from the Finale of the Symphony for Solo Piano; as with the ‘bonus’ film of Hamelin playing the All’ Italiana movement of the Busoni Concerto with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä, the pianist’s nonchalance and unfazed musicianship in the face of such extraordinary technical demands is enough to make many amateur pianists weep with envy.

Part II features Marc-André Hamelin in recital, performing works by Godowsky (seven of the Studies on Chopin’s Etudes) and Liszt (Isoldens Liebestod and Ernani – Paraphrase de Concert). Viewers who have never before seen Hamelin in concert will surely be struck by his absolute concentration, his total lack of pretense, and his economy of motion at the keyboard. The one niggle is the somewhat surprising insertion by Hyperion of comments by the musicologist Marc-André Roberge, in between pieces of the recital – I suspect that most viewers would rather see the concert without any breaks, but there is no way of ‘programming out’ these interruptions. There is little need to say that the Chopin/Godowsky performances seem to be essentially unsurpassable; furthermore, both Liszt works are outstandingly played, with a haunting, devastating evaporation of Isolde’s ‘love-death’, and immaculate sparkling arpeggios in the show-piece Verdi paraphrase. As often seems to be the case with Hamelin, the only criticism one can make is an occasional lack-of-colour; but the overall pianism is of such a high standard that one feels reluctant to make any negative comments at all! Throughout, the sound and picture are good, but not exceptional.

As bonus features, Hyperion provide the aforementioned movement from the Busoni Concerto, and three short (5-minute) interviews: one with Robert Rimm, who discusses the various qualities necessary for supreme piano playing; one with the composer Jay Reise, who talks about composing for Hamelin; and one with Harvey Wedeen, Hamelin’s old teacher at Temple University, Philadelphia.

This is surely an essential purchase for admirers of Marc-André Hamelin, and also for pianophiles in general. We can only hope that Hyperion and other labels continue to produce such films – encouragingly, Hyperion have announced that a 2-DVD set entitled Bach Performance on the Piano will be released in September this year, and will include a lecture and live recital by pianist Angela Hewitt.


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