Wednesday, 20 April 2011

THE VIRTUOSO LISZT / Kenneth Hamilton Piano Recital / Review


Kenneth Hamilton, Piano / Esplanade Recital Studio / Monday (18 April 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 20 April 2011 with the title "Harmony of yin and yang".

Any recital of the piano music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) will invariably involve a lot of notes. Although the commemoration of the Hungarian-born virtuoso’s bicentenary by Scottish pianist Kenneth Hamilton centred on the showboating aspects of Liszt’s pianism, the quieter and more retiring vistas held the greatest resonance.

It all began with the first four Transcendental Studies, so named because no one save Liszt could play them with authority. Putting aside torturous finger exercises, stampeding chords and octaves, and assorted Paganinisms, it was the third √Čtude, Paysage (Landscape) with its gradually unfolding melody and gentle harmonic shifts that revealed the master’s prescient genius.

Also underrated was the Berceuse, in its Singapore premiere, which Hamilton shaded with much love and tenderness. “Learn it!” he exhorted the audience, “if you’re bored with Chopin’s Berceuse”, while acknowledging Liszt’s debt to his Polish colleague. Then the cannons and cavalry came out for the mighty Sonata in B minor.

At 27 minutes, Hamilton’s breeze through it might seem brisk, even short-winded. But make no mistake, he was not one to linger on longeurs or find profundities where they do not exist. Instead his straight-speaking manner lent tautness to its elaboration on four simple and unrelated themes. The transformation of one brusque insistent theme into one of Liszt’s most beguiling melodies was a water-to-wine moment, music’s miracle at Cana.

Perfect symmetry was afforded with Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson’s Symphonic Elegy for Liszt (1986) opening the second half. An anti-virtuoso statement, it reflected on the later and darker pages of Liszt’s output, a funeral ode of tolling bells with quotes from the Sonata as viewed through the lenses of Busoni with the occasional glance at Percy Grainger.

With the most serious part of the recital over, Hamilton the spellbinder regaled his listeners with Liszt’s most familiar virtuoso hits. The First Mephisto Waltz with its rapid fire tritones was balanced by the rarely-heard revised version of the popular Soirees de Vienne No.6. Never mind the few missed notes, as the coruscating Second Hungarian Rhapsody with Hamilton’s own glissandi-strewn cadenza brought out the cheers.

As if enacting an act of penance, Hamilton offered the sublime Petrarch Sonnet No.104 as the perfect encore. At once, the yin and yang of Liszt’s Janus-like personality was in perfect harmony.

The world's slowest Hungarian Rhapsody ever?

No comments: