Charles Richard-Hamelin: Live
A French-Canadian pianist named Hamelin, but not that one and no relation. Charles Richard-Hamelin (silver medallist at the 2015 Chopin Competition) was 26 years old when he recorded this live recital and the maturity of his playing is impressive. So too is the scope of his recital, which avoids the obvious. In Beethoven’s Op 51 Rondos he is particularly responsive to the Second Rondo’s more capricious moments, while its close, with a sudden outbreak of high spirits, is delightful.
The Chopin sequence, which closes the disc, mixes the familiar and lesser known. His take on the Third Ballade is refreshingly Classical, if not perhaps displaying as much personality as it might have done. On the other hand, his way with the early Introduction and Rondo, balancing delicacy and sinew without a hint of sentimentality, is very telling. The applause after this is startling as the audience have been largely silent up to that point. And in the concluding Polonaise he finds plenty to talk about without merely obsessing over its rhythm.
But the highlight for me was Enescu’s Second Suite. I have to confess this was new to be – but what a piece! Enescu is still underrated as a composer, his huge gifts as violinist, pianist, conductor and educator meaning that he lived many more lives than most of us could imagine. He wrote the Suite for a competition in 1903 and it sounds like a piano arrangement of a symphonic work, so vividly is it coloured. The opening Toccata is suffused with the sounds of bells and Richard-Hamelin is alive to its sense of joy. In the Sarabande he becomes utterly inward, relishing its more urgent inner section, spiced with whole-tone harmonies. Everywhere, he displays a strong sense of narrative, making him a compelling storyteller. The most inward point of the Suite comes with a flickering Pavane, which conjures the sound world of the Debussy of Pour le piano. Richard-Hamelin fully embraces the celebratory nature of the closing Bourrée, contrasting fanfares with brilliant post-Lisztian passagework. Captured in a warmly immediate recording, Richard-Hamelin is a welcome new voice on the pianistic firmament.