Marc-André Hamelin – It’s All About the Music (2006)

by | Mar 27, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Marc-André Hamelin – It’s All About the Music (2006)

Documentary & Recital
Studio: Prometheus Productions/Hyperion Records DVDA68000 [Dist. by Harmonia mundi]
Video: 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese
No Region Code
Extras: Interview with: Jay Reise, composer; Harvey Wedeen, Prof. of Piano, Temple University; Robert Rimm, author of a book on Hamelin; Concert video of 4th movement of Busoni Piano Concerto (4:3)
Length: 121 minutes (Doc. 47:48; Recital 47:50, Extras 25:45)
Rating: ****

The focus of the documentary and extras here is not just the high degree of skill with which pianist Hamelin performs and records  a dizzying variety of often-overlooked music, but on the history and backgrounds of the great virtuoso composer-pianists of the Golden Age of keyboard music.  Hamelin talks about some of them before playing excerpts from their music, and three other experts on the subject hold forth between selections. The music excerpts played by Hamelin include Alkan, Busoni, Dukas, Godowsky, Liszt, Medtner, Rzewski and Schubert.  The angles and closeups are extremely revealing; one shot from directly above the keyboard struck me as highly original and a fascinating viewpoint.

The recital, subtitled “Hamelin in Charlevoix, Quebec,” is also broken up with brief comments by Marc-André Roberge, a professor of musicology. The works heard are Godowsky’s Seven Studies on Chopin Etudes & The Gardens of Buitenzorg, Wagner’s Liebestod as arranged by Liszt, Themes from Verdi’s Ernani transcribed by Liszt, Anamorfosi by Sciarrino, Antheil’s Jazz Sonata, and Debussy’s Reflections in the Water. A number of the Godowsky Chopin Studies are for the left hand alone, and were it not for seeing Hamelin’s right hand resting on his right knee, one would probably not realize that just from hearing the virtuoso variations.

In the extras author Rimm talks about the “Busoni Network” and some of the composer-pianists who fit into this category. Mention is made of how many of the virtuoso effects in this type of music were only possible due to the composer also being a performing pianist.  In the Jay Reise interview in the extras the composer talks about the works he has written especially for performance by Hamelin, keeping in mind the pianist’s tremendous expertise with difficult music. Harvey Wedeen talks about how Hamelin ignored much of the usual repertory such as Schubert and Schumann, but how lately he is going back to it as well as continuing his concentration on music that passed out of favor, or never had favor in the first place.

The performance video of the fourth movement of the Busoni Piano Concerto is with an Italian orchestra conducted by Osmo Vanska, and fills out the impression of that composer-pianist’s approach to the keyboard.  The cinematography is of high quality and high resolution, with some fine landscapes and nature scenes. The sound is excellent, but I feel it would have been better yet if it was plain PCM stereo rather than Dolby Digital.

 – John Sunier

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