Charles Richard-Hamelin: Chopin; Music from the 2015 Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw [2 CDs]

I sat listening intently during the 2015 Women's Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award competition. The musical quality was so high, I wished I was on the jury. However, my vote was a simple act. Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano. As he played Chopin's Sonata No. 3, I watched a refined artist seemingly at the top of his form. It was a brilliant performance. And it turns out, he didn't need my vote! 

Hamelin is a Canadian concert pianist. McGill and Yale trained. After successes in Montreal and Toronto, Hamelin went on to be the runner up at the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition. I watched his progress on YouTube. It was fascinating and musically instructive. The man has technique to burn and is a serious artist. 

This 2 CD release by the Fryderyk Chopin Institute charts his progress through the first, second and third stage auditions, as well his contribution to the winners’ concert. It is a wonderful testament to his playing and musical courage.

Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano. 

Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano. 

The diverse program includes:  

  • Nocturnes, No. 17 in B, Op. 62/1
  • (27) Etudes, E minor, Op. 25/5
  • (27) Etudes, C minor, 'Revolutionary', Op. 10/12
  • (4) Ballades, No. 3 in A flat, Op. 47
  • (16) Polonaises, No. 7 in A flat, Op. 61, 'Polonaise-fantaisie'
  • Waltzes, No. 8 in A flat, Op. 64/3
  • (16) Polonaises, No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 44
  • Rondo
  • (26) Preludes, C sharp minor, Op. 45
  • Barcarolle
  • (4) Mazurkas
  • Nocturnes, No. 18 in E, Op. 62/2
  • Sonata for Piano No. 3

Hamelin could not be more different than the winner, Seong-Jin Cho. His debut DG CD [reviewed here]. A supremely refined pianist with a superior aesthetic and a very worthy laureate.  

No matter whether large or small scale Chopin, Hamelin's iron grip on structure makes for interesting listening. I've heard more reflective, dreamy Chopin, but Hamelin really does capture the 'cannons behind the flowers'. For him, Chopin is never less than intensely serious. His Chopin goes to 11. Sometimes, 10 is enough. 

Hamelin's touch is never less than beautiful. Listen specifically to his Mazurkas. They begin as if in a dream than transition effortlessly into the most wonderful dance rhythms. That he does this live [Yamaha piano] is amazing. From the first notes of the Op.33 Mazurkas, you know this person is going  to difficult to beat.  

The recording is vivid and dynamic and brings you close to the excitement of the live events. Piano sound is exemplary and aficionados may be able to tell it's a Yamaha piano and not Steinway. 

Richard-Hamelin is a supremely perceptive artist who is certain about his musical direction. I'm looking forward to hearing him in other repertoire. He's definitely one to watch and one for the future.