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
… This recording is tremendous. […] Charles Richard-Hamelin’s interpretation of the Ballade No. 4, the masterpiece on this album, is epic, without any deviation in its direction and luxurious in its refinement. While more voluble, the impromptus are on the same level. […] ★★★★★.
— Le Devoir
This complete edition of Frédéric Chopin’s ballades and impromptus makes it possible to appreciate two important sides of his work: in parallel to the narrative impetus of the ballades, the four impromptus reveal another facet of Chopin, putting us in touch with his talent as an improviser.
Frédéric Chopin’s ballades
Frédéric Chopin’s ballades are the first instrumental works to bear this name, originally used to designate refined vocal pieces. Very free in form, all four present a similar psychological journey, in which tension will increase to a fiery coda. They are also characterized by their ternary rhythm, which often gives the impression of a beating heart (Op. 23) or a rocking cradle (Op. 38, 47, 52) and by their serious tone. Written between 1831 and 1842, they testify to the evolution of Chopin’s piano writing: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, which he started composing in Vienna in the spring of 1831, while his compatriots were suffering the Russian repression of the November Insurrection, shows that the young man was moving away from the “brilliant style” of his beginnings to create a more personal “new world”, which he evoked in a letter to his former teacher, Józef Elsner. Completed in Paris in 1835 and published the following year, this work aroused the admiration of Robert Schumann, who confessed that he preferred it to all of Chopin’s previous compositions. While this first ballade shines by a cohesion and formal fluidity attributable to the kinship of its two main themes and the care given to the transitions, the outcome is completely different for Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38, begun in 1836 and completed during Chopin’s disastrous stay in Majorca with George Sand in the summer of 1839. Constituted by the juxtaposition of contrasting episodes, with a sometimes pastoral, sometimes furious character, this ballade, which begins with a peaceful “Andantino” in F Major – which Chopin often played in public without the continuation – ends with a brief reminder of it, this time in the gloomy key of A minor. Begun the following year and finished at George Sand’s home in Nohant in the summer of 1841, Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47, stands out for its sunnier atmosphere. Where others end on a somber note, Ballade No. 3 closes instead with a triumphant finish. It was also in Nohant, the following year, that Chopin composed most of Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, which he completed upon his return to Paris in late summer of 1842. More meditative and more lyrical than the previous ballades, this work, by its harmonic subtlety and its contrapuntal refinement, is one of the first, with Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, Op. 51, that fully belongs to the “late style” Chopin would develop until his premature death in 1849.
Frédéric Chopin’s impromptus
After the ballades and their vast formal architecture come the impromptus, of more restricted dimensions, which show Chopin’s affection for miniatures and salon pieces. Impromptus Op. 29, 51 and 66 are constructed according to an ABA form, where B most often takes on an introspective character. With its much freer formal plan, in which no section is repeated identically, Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major, Op. 36, comes closer to pure improvisation, in which sometimes disparate ideas fl ow into each other organically. The sequence of impromptus on this recording corresponds to their order of publication: the Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66, was composed around 1834, before the other three impromptus (respectively written in 1837, 1839 and 1842), but was released posthumously in 1855 – the epithet “fantaisie” was an addition by Julian Fontana, who published the first edition of this work.
© Florence Brassard
Translation: 37e Avenue