The concert began with 17-year-old Noah Wessels – a student at Vernon Christian School. He began with three Chopin pieces; the most dazzling being the Revolutionary Etude by Chopin. The piece has a difficult passage for the left hand that surges up and down the keyboard while the right hand issues fanfare like chords. Wessels was certainly up to the task even though he began studying piano in 2015.
After hearing Charles Richard-Hamelin play only the first few passages of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.13 in Eb major (in a fantasy style), I knew I was in the presence of one of the world’s great pianists. To quote Robert Harris of the Globe and Mail (Jan. 17, 2016): “His sense of time, harmony, above all, his structural originalities, are immensely sophisticated and daring. He seemed to be aware of the total Chopin by exposing inner voices and harmonic twists in both left and right hands.”
I agree whole heartedly with Harris. All these accomplishments at the age of 30! His virtuosity never got out of hand nor did his playing become grotesque during loud passages.
During the Moonlight Sonata (which was named such after Beethoven’s death) opening Adagio, I heard the real intention of the music with the rising sounds of sadness and despair brought forward by Richard-Hamelin’s skill. A furious Presto ensued, possibly representing anger or despair. This man gets you thinking by the way he plays.
Before intermission, Richard-Hamelin played a little known Fantasia in F sharp minor by Mendelssohn. I know why the piece was not played often – it is so difficult. No problem for our soloist. He breezed through the three movements with total abandon. His playing was so steady and confident throughout the piece.
After intermission we were treated to 12 Preludes, from opus 28 by Chopin. There was lots of variation in the length and character of each. They were played close together like a Suite. To finish the program, Richard-Hamelin played Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise op. 22. The latter of the two was a stunning close to the concert; with cascading octave runs played with great confidence and skill; giving the effect of two players. After a short encore (I couldn’t hear the title as it was announced off mic) and a second standing ovation, Richard- Hamelin bid his audience adieu. What a wonderful evening indeed.
The next NOCCA concert is Saturday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m. featuring a cellist, harpsichordist and archlutist.
-James Leonard is with the North Okanagan Community Concert Association, which presents shows at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre