Charles Richard-Hamelin – October 28, 2022

With a few clicks of a mouse we can instantly access concerts or recordings of the best performers from the whole world. This music can be transmitted through amazing speakers in the comfort of our own home. No fear of exposure to germs. But on Friday evening, Chamber Music Kelowna gave us an opportunity to be present at a piano recital given by Charles Richard- Hamelin, originally from Joliette, Quebec and winner of the Kristian Zimmerman prize at the 2015 Chopin competition.

Robert Schumann said: “To transmit light into the depths of the human heart: this is the artist’s mission.” This unimposing, gentle and personable pianist presented a concert that allowed our hearts to be deeply touched.

The recital presented the works of two composers, Ravel and Chopin, opening with the oft-performed “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (1899). It was instantly evident that we would experience Ravel’s unique use of impressionist colour. The music breathed so we could absorb the beauty of the phrases, and the dynamic range was carefully contained with the pianist’s seamless use of the una corde pedal.

The major work of the Ravel offerings was the “Tombeau de Couperin” (1914-1917). This collection of pieces (suite) honours the legacy of the Baroque composers, and each part is a tribute to a fallen soldier. Here we experienced the total range of Charles’ pianistic skill. From my point of view, the three dance-inspired movements, Forlane, Rigaudon and Minuet, were outstanding. Here we clearly heard the rhythmic character of each dance with Ravel’s unique harmonic language highlighted with care by the soloist. The “Toccata” that ended this first half is a tour-de-force. Chopin said; “Simplicity is the highest goal, achievable when you have overcome all difficulties.” That is certainly how Charles made it seem.

After intermission, all 24 Preludes of Chopin’s Op.28 (1835-39) were the featured work. From the outset it was evident that the tonal palette for these preludes was going to be different than what we had heard previously, and would represent the emotional essence of the genius that was Chopin, who stated, “a well-formed technique, it seems to me, is one that can control and vary a beautiful sound quality.” Throughout the range of emotion, ideas and images of these preludes, I was captivated by Charles’ ability to adjust to the quixotic changes required as he moved from one piece to the next and often with only a breath in between. It was evidence of his connection to and understanding of the music of Chopin.

There were many highlights during these 40 minutes: the projection and unfolding of the cello line in the B Minor prelude, followed by the gentle but rhythmic assurance in the A Major prelude, to mention just two. In the bravura pieces we were once again reminded of Charles’ range of pianistic skill.

The audience was rewarded for its enthusiastic standing ovation with the Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2. The melodic line unfolded gently and freely over the very secure and flowing left hand, making what Chopin told his students about rubato evident to this listener. All the ornamental flourishes were shaped with care and reminded me of all the hard work that had been done to prepare this heart-felt performance.

The program notes were a treasure-trove of wonderful information, and Charles’ introductory commentary gave personal insights into the pieces and composers.
Joe Berarducci resides in sunny Kelowna B.C. where he teaches piano and co-directs the children’s choir at the Community Music School. 

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