Review: Pianist gives highly refined concert

CRH rehearsing

Acclaimed pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin rehearsing before the NOCCA concert

By Jim Leonard

The program began with a tribute to longtime NOCCA board member and past president Paul Maynes. Board member Cathie Stewart presented Maynes with a beautiful painting of an Okanagan valley scene.

Then, as is the custom, a young musician is featured onstage. For this concert, Jenny Sutherland, a student at Seaton Secondary, sang three beautiful songs with her mother at the piano. She had a lovely clear voice for someone who is only 16-years-old. I didn’t catch the titles because no mic was used to announce the songs.

Finally, after much preamble, albeit necessary preamble by NOCCA’S board, we were subjected to a long introduction by the soft-spoken pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin regarding the program. He had chosen the music of two contrasting composers — Robert Schumann in the first half of the program followed by Chopin in the second half.

He began with the Arabesque of Schumann; beginning very quietly, and showing his ultimate control over the piano’s tone. There were many moods in the work, which were deftly and neatly handled by Richard-Hamelin. There were sudden outbursts in the music alternating with quiet contemplative parts. Every note was in it’s place; the runs controlled and clean.

As is the custom with concert pianists, the performance was from memory. How the artist remembered the Fantasie Opus 17 (also by Schumann) was a miracle, as the piece was a good 20 minutes long. As before, there was beautiful contemplative playing; the pianist being careful to not make harsh sounds in the loud, celebratory parts.

For the second half, Richard-Hamelin chose four Chopin Ballades. They were arranged in the program according to the age the composer was at the time of their composition, young to mature. The choice of these works showed the differences in approach, regarding writing for piano, of the two composers. Chopin used extensive melodies with less interruptions in the flow of the harmonies. Of the four Ballades, only the third one was in a major key. It was a refreshing Waltz.

During the playing of the four Ballades, Richard-Hamelin showed tremendous concentration and extreme virtuosity on the keyboard. Again, not a note out of place, seamless runs and brilliant chord patterns abounded. The 12-minute fourth Ballade seemed to sum up Chopin’s total experience as a composer/pianist. Again, brilliantly executed and bringing the audience to their feet.

Their enthusiasm was rewarded with a quiet encore: the slow movement from Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F minor. Beautiful playing on NOCCA’S wonderful new Hamburg Steinway piano.

The next NOCCA concert is 7:30 pm Saturday April 14, 2018, featuring Vancouver’s EnChor choir. Click here for more information.

Review By Jim Leonard For The Vernon Morning Star