And that's true even when the someone is Marc-Andre Hamelin, one of the best and most interesting pianists working today.
He played a program with the Pacifica Quartet back in November, a Monday night at SF JAZZ the day after I got home from my trip to NYC. It was awesome in every way: the Pacifica led off with an intense performance of Shostakovich 7, and Hamelin joined them for the Leo Ornstein and Dvorak piano quintets. The Dvorak was lovely, with a nice Czech spicing, and I'm afraid at this remove I can't get any more specific than that.
The Ornstein was a horse of an entirely different color, a weird and wonderful work, around an hour long. It is about as discursive as a piece can get and still hang together, and indeed it did. It has what sounds like an impossibly difficult piano part, and of course the combination of weird and impossibly difficult means it's catnip for Hamelin, who has the weirdest recorded repertory of any living pianist.
The five of them gave it bang-up performance; it's a good enough piece that I'd say it deserves to be, at least, on the edges of the standard repertory.
By the way, this was my first time at SF JAZZ. Fabulous sight-lines, comfortable seats (for me), and hoo boy, a very clear, dry acoustic, making it a bit like hearing an x-ray of a program. A little more resonance wouldn't have hurt.
Here's what a couple of other reviewers thought of this program:
Then there was Hamelin's solo recital at the Nourse Auditorium, which left me scratching my head. He led off with his own Barcarolle, a misty Debussyan exercise that is, perhaps, a bit longer than it needs to be.
Then came the centerpiece of the recital, Medtner's Sonata in E minor, "Night Wind," Op. 25, No. 2. Um. Around and around and around it went, getting absolutely nowhere. Nice try, Marc-Andre, but leave it for the recording studio. Even you couldn't persuade me to hear this thing again - and I've heard and liked more Medtner than most. See Joshua Kosman's review of a different Hamelin recital; that's exactly how I felt.
After the intermission, he played the four Schubert Impromptus, D935, and, again, these just never took off. They lacked spring and vibrancy; only the last finally had the kind of momentum and energy I expect of both performer and composer. The encores were lovely, especially Hamelin's own hilarious version of Chopin's "Minute" Waltz.
Zachary Woolfe heard this program in NYC a few days before I did and liked it a lot. (I don't know about the pianist's alleged reputation; I must have missed that memo.) I'll chalk up what I heard to an off night on MAH's part, knowing we all have them (or maybe I just didn't like what he was doing with this particular repertory).