Charles Richard-Hamelin stands out on the international music scene as a “highly sensitive” pianist (Gramophone), driven by “a great depth of feeling without the slightest condescension” (Le Devoir). [...]
They spoke about it
His interpretation of the Enescu work is magnificent, but what he does with Chopin’s Polonaise No. 6 is exceptional because it renews the work. He is full of talent, this boy!
To say that this new album is a delight is a euphemism. This young man has a splendid touch and he constantly conveys an emotion that almost pulls your tears. Bravo!
—Le Journal de Montréal
The silver medalist of the International Chopin Piano Competition keeps moving forward with confidence on the path of depth and musical intelligence.
— La Presse
Captured in a warmly immediate recording, Richard-Hamelin is a welcome new voice on the pianistic firmament.
Fluent, multifaceted and tonally seductive, he is a technician of exceptional elegance and sophistication.
— BBC Music Magazine
Pupil of André Laplante and Jean Saulnier, his readings of Chopin has the stamp of a precocious maturity: he plays without scruple, not trying to please but to communicate.
— BachTrack (UK)
This live concert recording features superb performances and exceptionally fine sound.
— Ludwig van Toronto
Richard-Hamelin shows not only acute elegance and poise, but extreme precision and a heightened emotional sensibility.
— La Scena Musicale
Richard-Hamelin demonstrates a genuine understanding of this music and reveals more of its inner secrets in a gratifying way. […] His playing sparkled, his confidence was clearly evident, his musicianship mature and engaging.
— The WholeNote
Playing of this insight and maturity is rare.
— Vancouver Classical Music
After his consecration, it is now a liberation towards an almost infinite repertoire for the musician […] Evaluation: Superb ★★★★★.
— Le Parnasse Musical
Though written within a span of just over 100 years, the works recorded here nevertheless represent three centuries of music: Beethoven’s Two Rondos, Op. 51 are steeped in Classicism; the works by Chopin are in the Romantic tradition; and Enescu’s Piano Suite No. 2, Op. 11, with its unique harmonic language and impressionistic style, pointed toward one of the roads modernity would take in the early 20th century.
Yet in this admixture of eras, there is a pleasing balance between well-known favourites and more obscure works – between familiarity and discovery.
Two Rondos for piano, Op. 51 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Beethoven’s Two Rondos for solo piano, Op. 51 were written four years apart and not intended to go together; the decision to include them in the same opus was made by a publisher, who released them together in 1819, 19 years after the second was composed. But the two works do share many features, starting with the elegant simplicity of their refrains, which evoke the classicism of Mozart and Haydn more than they do the “heroic” Beethoven of the early 19th century. Each in their own way, both works in Op. 51 stray from the conventional rondo form. For instance, within the second couplet of the Rondo in C Major, Op. 51, No.1, Beethoven places the return to the refrain in the key of A-flat major. Some of the alterations made to this “false refrain”, such as the use of chromatic passages, or of triplets to rhythmically accelerate the consequent phrase, reappear in the third and final occurrence of the refrain in the initial key of C major. In the Rondo in G Major, Op. 51, No. 2, the rondo form is nested within a larger ABA’, suggested by the extreme contrast of the second couplet compared to the rest of the work, which Beethoven imbued with a more animated character, a new key, and a different metre and tempo.
Suite No. 2 for piano, Op. 10 by GEORGE ENESCU (1881 – 1955)
During his lifetime, George Enescu’s compositional output was eclipsed by his brilliant career as a soloist, chamber musician, conductor, and teacher. A virtuoso violinist who taught the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and who performed with Dinu Lipatti and Pablo Casals, Enescu was also an excellent pianist whose technique was admired by none other than Alfred Cortot. Enescu himself premiered his Piano Suite No. 2 in D major, Op. 10 in 1903. Three of the four movements were written for an international composition competition organized that same year by the magazine Musica. To the “Toccata” composed two years earlier during a stay in his home country of Romania, he added a “Sarabande”, “Pavane”, and “Bourrée” to form a suite that he submitted to the jury under the title of Des cloches sonores (Ringing Bells).
The bell image works particularly well for the rich, vibrant textures of the opening “Toccata” and the closing “Bourrée”. Enescu here seems to use a definition of “toccata” dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, when it could mean a fanfare-like work. Unlike the perpetual motion character of the toccatas from Debussy’s 1901 Suite pour le piano and the conclusion of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (1918), Enescu’s Op. 10 Toccata alternates full, majestic writing that makes liberal use of the pedal and that spans both ends of the piano’s range with thinner, more articulate writing, thereby evoking different stops on an organ.
In the introduction of the noble, dream-like “Sarabande”, the arpeggiated chords accompanying the melody, played in octaves with the right hand, evoke the strumming of guitar strings, an accompaniment style that returns from time to time as the movement unfolds.
The “Pavane”, which bears the indication “lentement bercé” (slowly rocking), is the most intimate movement of the work. In the opening lines, the melody, with its free rhythm ornamented with trills and marked “quasi flûte” (flute-like), could be heard as an allusion to Romanian folk music; however, in a suite so highly imbued with French influences, it remains a very subtle evocation.
Much more exuberant – at times even pounding – with moments of dramatic intensity not yet reached in the previous movements, the opening of the “Bourrée” manages to be at once festive and solemn, with a motive in parallel thirds in the right hand that undeniably evokes a trumpet call. This motive takes on great importance as the piece unfolds, its rhythm or melodic shape variously taken up in different registers of the keyboard, culminating in an almost orchestral climax shortly before the end.
Romantic piano works by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849)
Frédéric Chopin completed his Rondo in E-flat major, Op. 16 in 1832, the year before he arrived in Paris. Based on sketches he had long set aside, this work in the “brilliant” style, filled with a freshness, virtuosity and – rare for Chopin – humour, is fully in keeping with his young works, composed while he was still in Poland.
The other pieces by Chopin on this recording, all composed between 1840 and 1843, are mature works in which virtuosity is employed to convey more substantial musical ideas. The Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, Op. 47, more luminous than Chopin’s other three ballades, also stands out for its almost dance-like character and the unity of its thematic material. Written two years after he started writing Op. 47, the Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 features an assemblage of sections with characters that justify the subtitle “Heroic”: majestic and triumphant, the main theme gives way to the famous central section in E major, with its martial melody strutting over a tireless ostinato pattern of four descending eighth-notes played in octaves. Conversely, the melancholy Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 55, No. 2 is a highly abstract work that paves the way for Chopin’s late style. Behind its improvisational exterior is writing that is much more complex than it initially appears; the attentive ear will detect subtle thematic relationships between the melody and the accompaniment.
© Florence Brassard
Translated by Peter Christensen