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Chopin: Ballades & Impromptus

Charles Richard-Hamelin (piano) (Analekta)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Ballades Nos 1-4; Impromptus Nos 1-3; Fantaisie-Impromptu in C sharp minor
Charles Richard-Hamelin (piano)
Analekta AN 2 9145   58:18 mins

Unprecedentedly in the history of Warsaw’s great Chopin Piano Competition, the most recent edition (2015) saw North American players making up four of the six prize-winners. Top among these was the Canadian Charles Richard-Hamelin, placed second and already then clearly a Chopin interpreter to watch. He confirms that further in cultivated performances here, focusing on the beauty of Chopin’s music while finding deep meaning within it. Sophisticated in his approach to the four Ballades, he sets the tone in the G minor work with playing of great introspection, but for all the poetry – even the żal, that uniquely Polish soulfulness – he also commands plenty of virtuosity. Seemingly mindful of the literary associations attached to the Ballades, he brings out their narrative qualities; this is felt particularly in the storytelling sense with which he opens the F major piece.

But it is perhaps the approach of the Quebec-born musician to the often-overlooked Impromptus that really marks him out. It takes an outstanding pianist to make the most of these, often dismissed in comparison with Chopin’s greater music yet also seen by some as a series of musical landscapes prefiguring impressionism. Paying tribute in their title to Schubert and belonging to the bel canto thread in Chopin, they share with the Nocturnes their A-B-A structure. Even Chopin himself called the G flat major Impromptu an ‘occasional piece’, yet Richard-Hamelin makes it spellbinding, and to round off the disc he captures the pianistic glitter of the Fantaisie-Impromptu. An exemplary Chopin recital.

John Allison