Surprisingly, Marc-Andre Hamelin, who played a splendidly energizing and musically probing recital in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Thursday night, had never before appeared in Orange County. And his single L.A.-area performance had happened years earlier, on Wayne Shilkret’s Gold Medal series in Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, in early 1986.
But the French-Canadian pianist is hardly unknown. He has made numerous recordings, largely of such marginal composers as Medtner, Scriabin and Alkan, and he has devoted fans, many of whom showed up in Costa Mesa on Thursday.
His cultivated virtuosity combines a huge range of mechanical and coloristic resources with an endearing humility: He makes music in every moment, and never calls attention to himself.
Hamelin surveyed styles from the straightforward yet wondrous charms of Mozart’s Sonata in C, K. 330, through the brooding, bipolar world of Schumann’s “Fantasy Pieces,” Opus 12, eight of the quirky and subtly seductive 20 Mazurkas by Szymanowski, to the challenging -- and irresistible -- pieces in Book III of Albeniz’s “Iberia.”
The music came first, and the playing was revelatory, showing off facets of each composer that some pianists seem to forget. But the mechanical display could not be ignored: Hamelin commands tons -- nay, acres -- of technique, all of it used to articulate, color and enliven the intriguing music at hand.