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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 3

Marc-André Hamelin and Karin Gauvin: A Budding Duo

by Lucie Renaud / November 1, 1999

Version française...

The ideal relationship between an accompanist and a singer is an equal musical partnership. A new release on Riche Lieu unites two stars, pianist Marc-André Hamelin and soprano Karina Gauvin.


At the beginning of his career, the critics acclaimed Marc-André Hamelin's phenomenal technique. Through the years, his analytical intelligence and his musical sensitivity have proven him to be a true artist. His numerous recordings have revealed him to be a defender of marginal repertoire. Despite his love for forgotten romantic and neo-romantic treasures, he appreciates the music of the great masters and has a deep love for contemporary composers.

Karina Gauvin's reputation keeps growing, in Canada as well as abroad. Recipient of many prestigious awards, her recordings include Bach's Anna Magdalena's little book, arias from Beethoven's Egmont, Vivaldi motets and arias form Handel's Agrippina and Alcina.


Marc-André Hamelin: Exceptional Chamber Musician

Marc-André Hamelin remembers vividly his first recital with Karina Gauvin in 1989, broadcast live on CBC. They performed works by Mozart's son in an overheated hall. "It was a hot night on la scena musicale," chuckles Marc-André Hamelin. He remembers this first experience with Gauvin as being very positive. The soprano crossed his path a second time in 1995, when she was a finalist at the CBC competition and the pianist a member of the jury. She sang Britten's Illuminations with tremendous brio. He told us, "she owned the piece. Her voice had evolved into something truly grandiose." He recalls having felt "moments of pure grace". Maureen Frowley, the event's co-ordinator, approached Marc-André Hamelin after the finals with a project to record some French melodies with Gauvin. The recording of Fête galante finally took place in May 1999.

During the first rehearsals, the pianist became acquainted with the singer's vocal capacities and her personality. He describes Karina Gauvin as being "one of the greatest singers" he has encountered. He suggested some of the repertoire, Poulenc's Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon, for example (when we asked them individually which piece they had particularly enjoyed, both mentioned the melody C). Gauvin wanted to include some folklore-inspired songs, and as a result he discovered Vuillermoz's Chansons, with tremendous pleasure. He calls Jardin d'amour "a jewel." Marc-André Hamelin agreed that Fauré's classics had to be included. He feels that what Karina Gauvin brings to these had to be recorded. For him, it is very important "that the audience listen to a piece, even if it is well known, as if it were for the very first time."

The virtuoso recalls the recording sessions were "delicious," but he admits he was frustrated at times by the limitations of the piano put at his disposal. He would have liked to have achieved the "37 285 nuances" required for his underlying vision of the Debussy melodies - the 37 283 he successfully mastered are already quite phenomenal!

His role on this recording was not as an accompanist but rather as a chamber musician. Non-verbal communication predominated between the two artists, both having to learn "to be considerate, to react, to adapt to the other." This general attitude still left room for unplanned changes in interpretation, the singer complementing the pianist and the pianist underlining the singer's intentions. As a solo pianist, he remains "fascinated by how the pianist and the singer become one instrument," bigger than the sum of its parts.

This unique collaboration confirms beyond a doubt that Marc-André Hamelin, though modest, is an exceptional pianist of great intelligence. One may only hope that despite his busy solo career he will find the time to charm us again in this more intimate setting.

Marc-André Hamelin, Karina Gauvin

Karina Gauvin: The Perfect Accomplice

A joint recording project had long been on Karina Gauvin's mind - some melodies included on the record were painstakingly pondered but others were obvious choices. Of course, Poulenc had to be represented since this year marks the centennial of his birth. After her Paris recital of Poulenc's melodies performed in March, 1999, she met Pascale Honnegger, the composer's daughter. Delighted by her voice, Ms. Honnegger sent her Le Saluste du Bartas - written by her father and premiered in 1942 - a score impossible to find on this side of the Atlantic. The Debussy melodies were chosen with the pianist Marc-André Hamelin during their early rehearsals. Mrs. Gauvin told us that Marc-André Hamelin seemed delighted to work on these gems that are rather taxing on the pianist but so fulfilling musically.

The pianist and the singer seem to have developed an almost magical bond. She talks with warmth of this association and insists that their relationship was based on equality, Marc-André Hamelin never coaching her in the process. The image of the almost invisible pianist accompanying the temperamental diva does not hold up in this case. The musical works were studied together, each partner feeling free to bring in a few interpretative suggestions. This way, their personal views of the melodies melded into a master plan. But that didn't prevent the artists from being spontaneous - at times, the pianist would try a few subtle changes and the singer adapted herself to them very naturally.

Karina Gauvin uses only superlatives when talking about this extraordinary pianist, sadly remarking that he isn't appreciated as much as he should be. She adds, "He is a national treasure!" The depth, richness and subtlety of his playing blew her away. He deeply touched her soul right from the start.

She hopes to be able to work with him on another recording project, as soon as their busy schedules leave them both a breather. This might very well be the beginning of a wonderful relationship that will delight music lovers all over the world.

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