Sunday, April 18

Chopin’s preludes, haunted echoes of a pandemic

Quebec pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin is releasing a new Chopin record on Friday, April 9, combining the 24 préludes and theAndante spianato and Great shiny polish. Through a dark and deep vision, he made his mark in a cycle that was nevertheless very often recorded.

“I made a fairly strong reflection on these pieces. Some more instinctive pianists get lost in the preludes. My work in the preludes was particularly difficult. It is one of Chopin’s most difficult works to interpret, and for all possible reasons: some preludes are as difficult as studies and there are downright puzzles, ”Charles Richard-Hamelin tells us.

Among the main musical mysteries, the pianist cites the 19th prelude in E flat, “which requires very large hands for the pianist to feel comfortable and which should sound easy and flowing. If it starts to look laborious we have missed the boat completely ”!

Shadows and lights

If we wanted to talk to Charles Richard-Hamelin about his record, something unusual, it is because after hearing, the journey seems so personal, strong and interesting, so deep, with threatening, ghostly aspects, shadows and lights à la Carl Dreyer, that a dialogue on the aspirations or the sources of inspiration of the pianist seemed to us more enriching than a simple critical comment.

Just as we admire the superlative subtlety ofAndante spianato in addition, we could have deployed reflections on the tempo of the first two preludes, on the differentiation of the weight of the chords in the 18e or on the power of the left hand in continuous basement of the 22e.

Charles Richard-Hamelin confirms our perception of things. Yes, he agreed to this haunted journey: “These are the darkest abysses that we find in certain preludes. “

His life with this work is out of the ordinary. “Usually I have a recital program that I play 30, 40 or 50 times before recording. There, in the summer of 2020 [le disque a été enregistré en décembre] I did not have the opportunity to play the 24 préludes in concert. The work that develops in concerts, all the way, has been replaced by time at home to scrutinize the score and to do an overview of the discography. It’s a very different job that lent itself well to this work, especially since in a pandemic, it had ups and downs, a lot of uncertainties and pressure. These préludes run across the spectrum of psychological states one can go through and that’s what I wanted to explore. “

Considering that Chopin was responsible for the unity of the cycle through the links of tonalities and the recurrence of certain motifs, Charles Richard-Hamelin was interested in the “Schumann side, without preparation”, of each prelude, with the challenge of finding “from the first note, the character and the sound”.

Among the interpretations which captivated him, the pianist quotes the first version of Alfred Cortot, for “the rhetoric, the timing, freedom ”, but also those of Rubinstein, Moravec, Pollini and Argerich, even if“ the meaning of Argerich’s rubato is totally his own ”.

If one notices an affinity of mind with some choices of the remarkable Eric Lu it’s no accident: “He’s a friend. He sent me his préludes recorded for Warner. The sound recording is incredible. I like this game which takes its time and its sound which sings all the time. His version influenced the sound of my album “, admits Charles Richard-Hamelin, who considers that at the end of the day” the recordings nourish the subconscious “. He listens to them to let himself be “surprised by decisions and choices”.

The pianist is now preparing to face the cycle in concert, a different exercise, even if on the merits, the extensive reflection having been made, nothing will really change.


The 24 Preludes. Andante spianato et Grande polonaise. Analekta AN 29148. Released April 9, 2021.

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