review by Isis Tse
Kilburn Memorial Concert
Charles Richard-Hamelin (piano)
Convocation Hall, University of Alberta
Tuesday, April 4
Mozart: Fantasy in D minor K. 397
F. Chopin: Quatre Impromptus:
No. 1 in A flat major op. 29
No. 2 in F sharp major op. 36
No. 3 in G flat major op. 51
No. 4 in C sharp minor Fantaisie-Impromptu Op.posth. 6
Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major op. 53 “Héroïque”
Schumann: Cinq Feuillets d’album (tiré de “Bunte Blätter” op. 99)
Schumann: Piano Sonata no. 1 in F sharp minor, op. 11
The featured artist of this year’s Kilburn Memorial Concert at Convocation Hall on Tuesday evening (April 4) was pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, the silver medalist of the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015. The 28-year-old musician is the first Canadian to finish in the top three of this prestigious competition. He studied at McGill University, the Yale School of Music, and the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal – since winning the competition two years ago, his international career has taken off. He recently appeared with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in October 2016, performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.
The Kilburn Memorial Concert is an annual event put on by the University of Alberta that boasts free admission; online RSVP was required and the concert was shown as sold out on the website. However, Convocation Hall was only about two-thirds full. Given the calibre of this performance, it unfortunate that spots were unavailable for those who would have wanted to attend.
The program opened with Mozart’s Fantasia No. 3, but Richard-Hamelin immediately confirmed his reputation for Chopin with his use of “melody delay” – letting the right hand trail behind the left hand accompaniment – and delicate rubato. The remaining first half of the program was devoted to works of Chopin. His performance of the Chopin Impromptus showed his ability for dramatic contrasts and superb lyricism. In the second and third Impromptus, in particular, he let the music speak for itself. Dissonance, harmonic colours, and register changes were brought out with poise. His version of the Fantasie-Impromptu was compelling and musical, while not falling into the trap of self-indulgence. The “Heroic” Polonaise, too, lived up to its nickname, but the fortissimos were joyous without being aggressive.
The second half of the program featured early Schumann works, which are certainly less well-known pieces than the Chopin selections. The first of the selections was five short pieces from Bunte Blätter (‘Coloured Leaves’), each of them no longer than two and a half minutes. Given the relative obscurity of Bunte Blätter, the audience was unprepared for the ending and did not manage to applaud before he immediately launched into the first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 1, Op.11. Richard-Hamelin plays for the music rather than the audience. At times, his performance is so intimate that one feels as if one is intruding by listening.
The sonata was Schumann’s first venture into the form; it suffers somewhat from a lack of structural cohesion. However, Richard-Hamelin brought out the passion in the first and last movements, the emotional fragility of the Aria, and the classical poise of the Scherzo contrasted with Chopin-inspired Intermezzo.
Charles Richard-Hamelin is not a showy performer, and his greatest strength is his unpretentious approach. He is physically reserved and almost crouches over the piano. His playing, rather than being a carefully planned performance, is a genuine interpretation of an artist who is emotionally present in the moment. His technical ability is impeccable but never stands in the way of musical sensitivity. The young pianist shows maturity and insight beyond his years. It is refreshing to see such honest, heartfelt music-making.
His first recording, featuring late works by Chopin, was released on the Canadian Analekta label; a second album, released in the fall of 2016, was recorded live at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City with music by Beethoven, Enescu and Chopin. I look forward to hearing more from this exceptional young artist.