Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Art of Fugue

In discussing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), one is tempted to use words usually associated with theology and philosophy rather than music. So complex is its design, so profound its meaning, and so challenging to the intellect - and concentration - of the musician who dares to scale its towering height, it is, not surprisingly, not a work often found in concert programmes. Even Glenn Gould would, in his concert-giving days, only programme a few fugues from the set in his recital programmes.

 

Pianist Filippo Gorini appears to be a pianist well suited to the task of performing these works, being, even in his relatively young age, already associated with works like Beethoven’s late sonatas and the Diabelli Variations. Indeed, he is proving himself to be an artist whose, in Artur Schnabel’s facetious words, second half of his recital being just as boring as the first.

 

Well, there was no second half to yesterday’s recital, when the Vancouver Recital Society launched its season with this bold presentation. After a brief talk about his journey of discovery into Bach’s monumental work, Gorini proceeded, over the next hour and a half, to play, from memory, the entire set from Contrapunctus 1 to the unfinished Contrapunctus 14.

 

In examining the score of this work, it seems like Bach did have the keyboard in mind when he composed the work. In the technically challenging Contrapunctus 7, 9 and 13, the music seems eminently pianistic, difficult as they may be. In my readings, Bach did have the harpsichord predominantly in his mind when composing these fugues -- What I wouldn’t give to hear Bach play them on the harpsichord!

 

Gorini was completely and utterly above the technical challenges of the piece, which allowed this listener to focus completely to his approach to the music. That said, I could not help but ponder upon the transcendental technique he must possess in order to present these works as convincingly as he did. I liked the searching manner in which he began many of the fugues, almost as if he is inviting us to embark upon this astounding musical journey. That said, he managed to infuse within each fugue a slightly different character. Throughout the performance, he was like a man who both lost and found himself, losing himself completely in the music, yet clearly seeing the way before him.

 

Can music like this be “enjoyable”, or moving? My answer from yesterday’s performance is a resounding “yes”. From the first notes of the subject in Contrapunctus 1 to the singular final note of Contrapunctus 14, it was, totally and utterly, an overwhelmingly emotional and moving experience. Throughout the afternoon, there was a feeling of spiritual exultation in Gorini’s music-making. The 90 minutes of the recital went by very quickly indeed.

 

I would be very keen to keep my eyes and ears open for this young artist’s development. 

 

I look forward to his next journey of musical discovery.

 

 

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Inner World of Eric Lu

 Eric Lu’s performance at the Vancouver Playhouse yesterday reminded me of what Leschetizky said to Artur Schnabel, “You will never be a pianist, you are a musician.” I would only amend that statement by saying that Lu is also an exceptional pianist, but an even finer musician.

 

The recital opened with Robert Schumann’s gem of a miniature, the Arabeske in C Major, Op. 18, a performance that betrayed the luminous sound Lu drew from the Steinway. The final section of the work, Zum Schluss (m. 209) was achingly beautiful.

 

I am grateful to Lu for playing, with great inspiration, Schumann’s relatively rarely performed Waldszenen, Op. 82. Once again, he drew us into the composer’s most intimate thoughts and emotions, at the same time highlighting the individual character of each piece. For me, the delicacy he brought to Einsame Blumen, as well as the almost psychedelic colours he painted in sound, the famous Vogel als Prophet, were particularly endearing. And how movingly he played the final Abschied, taking us through a wondrous sonic journey to the two soft final chords. 

 

The first half of the concert ended with a rousing but thoroughly musically satisfying reading of Brahms’s Theme und Variation, a transcription (written for Clara Schumann) of the movement from his String Sextet No. 1, Op. 18. Lu managed the no small feat of threading his way through Brahms’s texture with astounding clarity and beauty.

 

Lu began the second half of the concert with Schubert’s heavenly Impromptu in G-flat Major, Op. 90, No. 3, beguiling us again with the beauty of his sound, making the long melodic line float, and allowing us to hear the harmonic progression of the arpeggiated accompaniment. 

 

The young artist’s rendition of Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35 was truly overwhelming. He managed to highlight the absolute wildness of the opening theme, which makes the contrast with the lyrical second theme even more stark. Throughout the movement, Lu played the music in the manner of a titanic struggle. He played the opening repeated-note figure of the second with great weight, giving this opening a real sense of occasion and a feeling of substance. The waltz-like second subject once again reminded us of Lu’s gift for lyricism. In the funeral march, the gloom of the A section was, under Lu’s hands, not dispelled by even the incredible beauty of the D-flat Major section. Indeed, to my ears, he played this section not with a sense of consolation, but more with a feeling of shared grief. The petrifying final movement was indeed frightening. Two measures before the final outburst, Lu dramatically slowed the momentum of the music, giving it an almost unbearable tension, making the final B-flat minor chord all the more dramatic.

 

Lu’s single encore of Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15, reminded me of pianist Byron Janis’ words about Chopin music, that it “pierces our ears and breaks our hearts.” From the lyrical opening, to the funereal middle section, and to the truncated return of the opening theme, Lu infused the music not only with beauty, but also with the logic of its arch-like structure. 

 

Hearing Lu’s playing yesterday, I had the feeling that he was allowing us into his very private world with his music making. I felt that I was eavesdropping on someone playing through an open window. Indeed, Lu’s music-making betrays a maturity and sensitivity well beyond his years. With his luminous playing at yesterday’s concert, I felt that we had in our midst, an old soul, one who illuminated the wonders and beauty of this timeless music that he shared with us. Eric Lu had indeed given us a precious gift with his playing – a window, a glimpse into his inner world. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Mozart's Divine Comedy

An emotional day yesterday as I attended my first opera since the pandemic – Seattle Opera’s production of Mozart’s timeless divine comedy, Le Nozze di Figaro. Indeed, there were times yesterday afternoon that I felt overwhelmed by the visceral effect of hearing this heavenly music.

 

Conductor Alevtina Ioffe led the cast of very well-balanced young voices in a performance that was beautifully sung and acted, (mostly) tastefully funny, and ultimately moving. Ioffe set a comfortably brisk reading of the overture, moulding the music into a cohesive whole but also propelling it forward, with well thought-out tempo choices throughout the performance, as well as logical tempo relationship between the different numbers within each act. It was only at the beginning of Act One’s Terzetto (“Cosa sento! Tosto andate”) that the tempo sagged slightly, somewhat hampering the tension and flow of the music. Kudos to the orchestra too, for their outstanding playing. The brief oboe line in the Countess’ Act Three aria (“Dove sono I bei momenti”) was lovingly played by oboist Ben Hausmann, although I feel that the line could have been shaped with even greater flexibility and space. Likewise, there was brilliant playing by Mark Robbins of the brief horn solo in Figaro’s Act Four aria (“Aprite un po’ quegli occhi”).

 

The voices were uniformly good. Other than outstanding performances of their own solo numbers, the cast really worked to blend their beautiful voices, making this genuinely an outstanding ensemble performance. Michael Samuel made for a convincing Figaro, demonstrating throughout the afternoon his uncanny comic timing – without sacrificing one iota the beauty of the music - conveying on the one hand the character’s street smart as well as being a bit of a “bonehead” at times. 

 

In the “trouser role” of Cherubino, Emily Fons gave truly stunning performances of the character’s two iconic arias. I felt that her overwhelmingly musical singing of the Act Two aria, “Voi che sapete”, really stopped the show. Her rendition of the notoriously difficult “Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio” highlighted the breathless quality of both the text and the aria.  Joshua Hopkin’s Count Almaviva had a physical presence that conveyed the sense of superiority of the character, as well as the almost self-destructive nature of his overactive libido. His “vengeance” aria in Act Three (“Vedro mentr’io sospiro”) conveyed the almost Handelian splendor of the vocal writing. 

 

Helen Dix conveys great dignity in her portrayal of Countess Almaviva, giving heartfelt and truly moving performances of both “Porgi, amor” in Act II and “Dove sono I bei momenti” in Act Three; her handling of the tempo and dramatic transitions in “Dove sono” was particularly deftly handled. Her voice blended magnificently with that of Anya Matanovic’s Susanna in the overwhelmingly beautiful Act Three duet (“Canzonetta sull’aria ‘Che soave zeffiretto”), a real highlight of the afternoon. Dix’s singing of the brief line in Act Four, expressing her pardoning of the Count’s dalliances, conveyed the almost Christ-like nature in her forgiveness. Those six or so measures of music, when all action is abruptly suspended, represents for me a highpoint in all of opera, perhaps even all of music. (The final trio from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier comes a close second.)

 

Matanovic was the perfect Susanna, conveying the perfect combination of the character’s innocence, sassiness and wit. Her Act Four “garden aria” (“Deh vieni, non tardar”) was another instance when one held one’s breath throughout the performance.

 

Even the “minor” roles were expertly casted and extremely well sung. The only slight disappointment for me was the exaggerated portrayal of Don Basilio, making him even more of a caricature than Mozart had originally intended. Margaret Gawrysiak’s Marcellina was convincing in her dramatic transition from the “older woman” to loving mother. I must say that the idea of the long-lost child with a distinctive birthmark is probably one of the oldest cliches in theatre, yet Mozart’s genius with the music elevated what would have been a silly interlude into one of the most moving scenes, for me, in the entire drama. I was sorry that her Act Four aria was cut from the production, depriving her of a brief moment in the spotlight; perhaps the director felt that it hampers the flow of the drama. 

 

Ashley Fabian sang Barbarina’s Act Four aria (“L’ho perduta…me meschina!”) beautifully, highlighting Mozart’s uncanny dramatic and comic instinct, giving her this music of mock seriousness, filled with genuine pathos, over something as innocuous as losing a pin. I could not help but noticed the similarity of this aria’s opening melodic contour with the themes of Haydn’s Andante with Variations for piano in f minor (Hob XVII:6) as well as the opening theme of Schubert’s Fantasie for piano, four hands, in f minor, D. 940. What is even more uncanny is that all three works are in the key of f minor, and all three themes convey the same sense of gentle pathos. I could not help but wonder if Mozart was familiar with this Haydn work, or which music came first.

 

Stage director Peter Kazaras moved the drama along effectively, adding some clever dramatic insights along the way. In Act One and Act Three, when the peasants were presented to the Count, Kazaras had different women interact with the Count in various ways, suggesting that the lusty Count had had his way with more than a few of them, including one who was obviously with child, and motioned for the Count to notice her growing belly – a not-so-subtle way of indicating the parentage of the child. Benoit Dugardyn’s simple but effective set design, with columns forming a semicircle that gave a sense of depth, provided an effective backdrop as well as setting itself against the vibrant colours of the costumes designed by Myung Hee Cho. The set was beautifully lit by Connie Yun, with shifting colours to indicate the passing of the day. The colour of the impending dusk in Act Three was particularly striking.

 

While every opera of Mozart highlights different aspects of his genius, I personally believe that in Le Nozze di Figaro, the composer achieved perfection. He not only transformed Beaumarchais’ inflammatory (for its time) play into a testament to love and the sanctity of marriage, in the process giving us many insights into our all-too-fallible human nature. On top of all this is music of transcendent beauty that pierces our ears and melts our hearts, truly elevating us far above our everyday existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Jakub Kuszlik - Canadian Debut

As the cliché goes, life is indeed full of wonderful surprises. I thought I knew the works performed at last night’s recital backwards and forward, and then someone comes along playing these same pieces, and sweeps you off your feet and captures your heart.

 

Which was how it was with the Vancouver recital debut of pianist Jakub Kuszlik, in an all-Chopin recital. He commenced his performance with the three waltzes, Op. 34, a spritely performance of the Waltz in A-flat (No. 1), a deeply felt reading of the Waltz in A minor (No. 2), and a performance of the Waltz in F major (No. 3) that highlighted the rhythmic quirkiness of this very original work.

 

Perhaps more than any of his other creations, the mazurkas of Chopin most embody the element of zal, that almost untranslatable Polish word that contains a whole host of meanings, but can be generally described as a bittersweet melancholy. Kuszlik’s performance of the Four Mazurkas, Op. 30, captured the essence of this elusive quality. I was especially touched by his performance of the Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op. 30, No. 4, with its combination of deep sadness, anguish, and defiance. 

 

Kuszlik’s beautifully played the Nocturne in E major, Op. 62, No. 2, with an almost cinematic unfolding of the evolving stream of consciousness, from the calm, stately opening, to the agitato middle section with its complex polyphony, and to the flowing cantabile of the closing.

 

The young artist gave a masterful performance of the Scherzo in C-sharp minor, Op. 39, immediately conveying the restless quality of the music in the opening bars, as well as highlighting the stark contrast between light and shadow throughout the work. Amazingly, Kuszlik shaded the chorale theme and made it different with each appearance. The rippling descending broken chords that follow the chorale theme were played with a beguiling lightness, like shafts of lights shining through the clouds. The tempestuous and fiercely difficult coda was absolutely thrillingly played.

 

The second half of Kuszlik’s recital began with the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49, the only work of Chopin’s with this particular title. For me, a successful performance of this work has to have a storytelling quality, a feeling of, “Long ago, and far away…” To my ears, Kuszlik’s performance had this quality of a continuing narrative through the music many disparate episodes, but also a feeling of wholeness, or organic unity.

 

Kuszlik’s performance of the Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 was simply masterly. It had nobility, beauty and a sense of freshness, of discovery, all the more remarkable given our familiarity with this music. In the first movement, the sense of urgency in the opening flowed very nicely into the beautiful D major theme. Indeed, he made the move from one of a wealth of melodic ideas to the next completely natural and logical, and gave the movement a sense of cohesiveness, rather than meandering from one beautiful idea to another. In the brief scherzo, the enharmonic change that marked the transition from E-flat major to B major was absolutely magical. Kuszlik made this short scherzosounded like a logical intermezzo that took us from the opening movement through to the Largo that follows. This Largo movement was played with much attention to detail, beauty of sound, but with a flowing quality that again took us through Chopin’s many melodic ideas. I was particularly taken with the pains Kuszlik took to highlight the beauty of the composer’s writing for the left hand. He gave the presto non tanto movement an incredible urgency (without any feeling of rushing), a relentless quality, with almost a feeling of desperation, all the way until the work’s cataclysmic ending.

 

At the conclusion of the sonata, the audience gave Mr. Kuszlik a rousing and well-deserved ovation, whereupon he granted us two encores – Brahms Rhapsody in E-flat major, Op. 119, No. 4, which he played with brimming enthusiasm, an infectious vigor and youthful ardour (different from my own view of this work), and the same composer’s Intermezzo in A minor, Op. 116, No. 2, highlight the grey-tinged autumnal colours of the work.

 

In additional to the many of the aforementioned musical qualities of Mr. Kuszlik’s performance, it was, above all, music-making that moves. There is a depth of quality as well as an emotive quality in Mr. Kuszlik’s playing that drew me into his, and Chopin’s, sound world – a rare gift indeed.

 

Illness prevented Rafal Blechacz from fulfilling his engagement in Vancouver, but The Vancouver Chopin Society scored a real coup here in having found Mr. Kuszlik. We look forward to being witnesses to the many subsequent chapters in his artistic journey.

 

 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Music of Exile

I returned to the Orpheum Theatre last night to hear cellist Mischa Maisky as guest soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

 

The originally scheduled conductor had to cancel in the very last moment because of a family emergency, and the orchestra was fortunate in having secured the services of Stefan Asbury, a highly experienced conductor.

 

Perhaps it was Mr. Asbury’s experience that allowed him to put together this challenging programme in such short notice. Verdi’s I Vespri Siliani Overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major were both well played by the orchestra. The Verdi was, however, curiously lacking in tension throughout, a “pleasant” reading rather than one that gets one’s pulse going. I had the same impression with the performance of the Beethoven, an interpretation that looks back at the genial music of Haydn rather than the revolutionary sounds of the Eroica; last night’s performance lacked a tautness in the musical fabric.

 

For the performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, I have a feeling that the musicians of the orchestra were inspired, and really rose above themselves because of the presence of a great soloist. The missing musical tension in the first half of the concert was suddenly there, in spades.

 

Mr. Maisky gave a big, bold, heroic and ardent performance of the concerto, painting on an extremely large canvas. An experienced and avid chamber musician, he took pains to blend his own sound with that of the orchestral fabric, and conductor and soloist worked to make the work a symphonic experience. The range of sounds and colours he got from his instrument was nothing short of astounding. In the beautiful and soulful second theme, Maisky drew us into his emotional and sound world with playing that was both ardent and confiding. His playing of the second movement – music inspired by the illness of Dvorak’s sister-in-law and true love - was deeply heartfelt and overwhelmingly moving. In the third movement, he played with a rousing virtuosity that was breathtaking. 

 

Mr. Asbury should be given much credit for his role in the performance, for the Dvorak concerto is one that is littered with many potential ensemble pitfalls, all of which he and the orchestra deftly negotiated. He managed to give the work an organic whole. 

 

I was extremely touched by the entire performance, not only because of the great performance by this great musician. The Dvorak concerto is music of exile, as the composer had written it while living in America, far from his beloved Czech homeland. Throughout the work, there is a palpable sense of longing, a longing for home. 

 

Musical works created in exile and by exiles are often the most powerful – this would explain the power of the music of Chopin. 

 

In these last few years, when political persecution by ruthless dictatorships, and illegal war by a brutal dictator, had driven countless people from their homeland – in Hong Kong, in Syria, and of course Ukraine - last night’s performance of this Dvorak concerto became, for me, not only moving but extremely relevant. 

 

I do not know whether Mr. Maisky had any of these thoughts last night, but perhaps his choice of his only encore was telling – the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite in C minor – a performance filled with dark colours and meaningful silences, one that had the audience holding their breath. Maisky, wisely, did not make any announcement or pronouncement, perhaps leaving it up to the imagination of the audience whom this mournful music was meant for.

 

All of a sudden, the world became a better place. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Vancouver Recital Debut - Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu

Bruce Liu, the young pianist from Montreal who captured the hearts of the Varsovian audience at the 18th International Chopin Competition, made his Vancouver recital debut in two recitals this past weekend. Hearing the same programme two days in a row, in different venues, and with two beautiful but very different Steinway pianos, make for some interesting comparison.

 

The excellent acoustics of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts gave great warmth to the sound of the piano. At the Orpheum Theatre, in spite of its size, the Steinway there had greater projection and a bigger sound, thereby allowing the music to create a greater visceral impact and giving it more clarity of texture. I am grateful to have heard this young artist twice in such different surroundings, and I wouldn’t want to have to choose one from the other.

 

It is evident from the first piece on the programme, Chopin’s ethereal Nocturne in C-sharp minor (Op. 27, No. 1) that Liu understands the shaping and projection of phrases in this difficult work. From the mysterious opening with the widely spaced broken chords of the left hand, to the high drama of the almost mazurka-like middle section, and back to the slightly unsettling beauty of the opening theme, Liu made the music float. Phrases melt from one to the next, and I was stunned by his ravishing pianissimos

 

In my conversation with him, Liu said that he is interested in playing some of the lesser played youthful works by Chopin. His affinity for the more overtly virtuosic early works of the composer was evident in his performance of the Rondo a la mazur in F major, Op. 5. His playing of this youthful work was utterly filled with charm as well as a youthful, carefree sense of playfulness. Moreover, he captured the elusive rhythmic hurdles of the mazurka, to the manner born, as the saying goes.

 

In the larger works, like the Ballade in F major, Op. 38 and the Ballade in A-flat major, Op. 47, Liu was clearly at home with these larger-scale compositions of Chopin. In time, perhaps he will create greater contrast between the calm of the opening of the F major Ballade and the storm of the B section. For me, the highlight of the recital’s first half was the Ballade in A-flat major, where the sheer beauty of Liu’s sound on the Steinway was truly something to behold. He played this A-flat Ballade with breathtaking lightness and a disarming gracefulness. It was truly a remarkable achievement for so young an artist.

 

In Liu’s performance of the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, he brought to the work a sense of organic totality, from the high drama of the opening to the cataclysmic end of the final movement. In the Doppio movimento section of the first movement, there was a sense of desperation in Liu’s playing of the unsettling right-hand theme. Liu’s effortless virtuosity in the Scherzo was truly astounding. In the middle section of the Scherzo, he not only played the rocking theme with great beauty, but he made us aware of the intricacies of the composer’s writing for the left hand. The iconic funeral march was played with an overwhelming sense of stillness, making it truly a frighteningly relentless march of death. In the final movement, I “saw” with my ears the phantasmagoric and spookiness of the wind blowing across the deserted graveyard. A stunning performance indeed.

 

Liu’s ability to create a beautiful – not a superficial kind of beauty, but one with great substance – was evident in his playing of the Andante spianato, the last work on the official programme. It was utterly, meltingly beautiful, with one note dissolving into the next in the long-breathed melodic line. The fanfare that opens the Grande Polonaise was played with a great sense of occasion and rhythmic acuity. Because the theme of the Polonaise returns so often, this work can sometimes feel long, under the wrong hands. Not so with Bruce Liu, who managed to infused each return of the theme with different inflections and colours. His virtuosity towers over the blistering technical and musical demands laid down by the composer. 

 

In both recitals, the audience clamored for more at the end of Liu’s performance. The artist obliged with two encores on the first day, and three after his second recital – the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. posth and the Etude in G-flat major, Op. 10, No. 5 (“Black key”), which he played on both days, and one of the three Ecossaises the composer wrote. I am certain the audience would have been happy with many more.

 

All in all, a highly successful debut by a major young artist at the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant career. At this time, I only wish him continuing artistic and musical development, and that he would successfully navigate through the challenges and temptations of sudden fame. It would now be very interesting to hear Bruce Liu in other repertoire. From the evidence of this weekend’s recital, there is no reason to doubt that this young man can become one of the great artists of the next generation. 

 

I wish him Godspeed in his artistic and musical journey.

 

 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Orchestral Debut - Charles Richard-Hamelin

I ventured into Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre last Saturday for my first live Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert in almost two years. In spite of being masked for an hour and a half, the concert turned out to be a more than worthwhile experience. The programme was tailored for a somewhat scaled-down orchestra because of our present social distancing requirements.

 

Music director Otto Tausk led the orchestra in a spirited reading of Joseph Bologne’s Overture to L’Amant anonyme. It was my first exposure to the music of this French classical composer, a contemporary of Mozart - Bologne was eleven years Mozart’s senior. Born in the West Indies to a planter and an African slave, Bologne was brought to France for education when he was seven. During his adult years, he was active not only as composer, violinist and conductor, but also as a champion fencer. The “overture”, in actuality a symphony in three movements, is composed in the gallant style, and contains a wealth of felicitous melodic materials. It is good that Bologne’s music is becoming better known and more often performed, as he is obviously a highly gifted composer. The orchestra more than rose to the challenges of the music, and Tausk lavished much care into preparing the ensemble in giving a polished performance.

 

The next item on the programme, much better known, was the Pelleas et Melissande Suite by Gabriel Faure. As in the Bologne, this performance was prepared and executed with much care. The justly famous Siciliano was played with great beauty by the flutist Chris James.

 

The great interest of the evening was of course Vancouver Symphony debut of Canadian Charles Richard-Hamelin, silver medalist of the 2015 International Chopin Competition. Hamelin had already given two outstanding solo recitals in Vancouver, but this was his long-awaited debut with the orchestra, one of the last major Canadian orchestras to feature him as concerto soloist. 

 

Appropriately, Hamelin’s choice for his orchestra debut was Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor.

 

Since 2015, when he burst onto the international music scene with his win in Warsaw, Hamelin has matured both as an artist and musician. The freshness of his playing is still there, in spades, but add to that is now a maturity and depth in the music he plays. 

 

From the first chords of his entry in the first movement, it is easy to see why this young Canadian captured the hearts of the Varsovians and the ears of the jury members, for he demonstrated a complete identification with the Chopin idiom, as well as the logic of the composer’s melodic invention. Even with the large number of pianists who make Chopin a major part of their repertoire, there is only really a handful of true Chopinist in every generation. Charles Richard-Hamelin obviously belongs to this very small and select group. 

 

Hamelin played this work with a large palette of tone colours. His sound is always round and beautiful, and never forced. The shaping of each melodic idea was obviously well thought out, but without sacrificing the feeling of freshness and spontaneity. Every inflection was beautiful and poetic. In the second movement, Hamelin drew us into the very intimate sound world of the composer, and highlighted the great inner beauty inherent in the music. There was a hushed quality in his playing of this music, and the audience responded with the greatest compliment that can be afforded to any artist – silence. The Krakowiak rhythm of the third-movement, a stumbling block for many pianists, was brought to life under Hamelin’s hands. 

 

Chopin’s writing for the orchestra has been the subject of much derision. But if one were to examine the score carefully, one can see that the composer’s orchestration is not only highly sensitive in highlighting the solo part, but offers much beauty in itself, especially in the writing for the woodwinds. Tausk and the orchestra acquitted themselves admirably in playing this difficult score, sensitively supporting Hamelin from first note to last. 

 

The years following the winning of a major competition can be difficult ones for a young artist. After the initial buzz and attention of the musical press (and critical opinion can turn without a moment’s notice), a musician can continue to grow and develop into musical maturity, or an initially promising career can fizzle out if he or she merely keeps riding on the initial sensation. It is apparent that Charles Richard-Hamelin has now firmly established himself as a seasoned and mature artist, and we, the listeners, look forward to the coming chapters of his musical and artistic journey.