What might have been a confusion of bedfellows in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall did not turn out to be so. Returning to the hall after intermission one saw the instrumentalists of Les Violons du Roy, a period orchestra fronted by a large Steinway, its lid held high. This would have been sacrilege in Boston, but it worked. Marc-André Hamelin, that master of pianistic detail, found easy company with the subtle players of the renowned orchestra. Les Violons are not afraid to make a luscious sound now and then. In the slow air from Rameau’s Les Boréades which opened the concert, the bassoon solo gave us what might have been the most beautiful five minutes of the evening—her counter-melody just that little bit too slow and its sound beguiling. Mr. Hamelin played what sounded like an improvised cadenza in the Haydn concerto he undertook which was full of fancy and gentleness. I had always heard this pianist referred to as a “titan,” a “thunderer,” but he was not in this concert. He sat still on the bench. Thought the rhythms were crisp and direct, the effect was intimate, especially in the childlike cadenza (which might also have disturbed purists on either side of the early music divide). Mattieu Lussier was the clear and unostentatious conductor, helping his players, not himself. The structures were clear, and often the texture was delicious. This was quite the warmest playing I have heard from a period orchestra. Would the concert have been different with a fortepiano? Of course, and in some ways better perhaps—not so much a contest as a partnership. But this orchestra was able to step up, and this pianist was able to collaborate. I see it as a hopeful sign that the early music movement has been able, at least in these performances, to be a flexible thing, not a rigidity, not a doctrine.
Get Mr. Hamelin’s latest recording of Debussy’s Preludes, Book II, on the Hyperion label. Not the magician of mood that Michelangeli was, clarity is not the omnipresent goal as is seems it was with Gieseking, but everywhere present is a masterful control of detail and integration. This is a recording I have listened to over and over again, always hearing something else.