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A triple-header of virtuosity at Toronto Summer Music

The evening concert in front of a full house had all the earmarks of a very special event as TSM’s Artistic Director Jonathan Crow came on stage to welcome the audience and introduce the star attraction. Charles Richard-Hamelin, silver medal winner at the 2015 Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition had come to TSM ready to provide evidence of his consummate affinity to Chopin and the Romantic repertoire.

The first half of his program included Rachmaninoff’s Morceauz de fantaisie, Op. 3 and Fryderyk Chopin’s Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise Brillante, OP. 22. While he performed both with flowing lines, delicate phrasing and gigantic climaxes, I couldn’t help but wish he had chosen some less familiar repertoire. The long melodic lines of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Elegy’ were stirring as were the Russian church bells of his famous Prelude in C-sharp minor (the one Rachmaninoff hated and felt forced to perform throughout his career). The fioriaturas of Chopin spun from Richard-Hamelin’s fingers like a spattering of colour on a well-crafted painting.

It was in the second half, when joined by three members of the Dover Quartet that I heard aspects of Richard-Hamelin like never before. Here was a chamber musician of the highest caliber. His virtuosity matched that of the string players. The ensemble playing left me breathless. Arnold Schoenberg said that he orchestrated the Brahms Quartet No. 1 partly because it was badly played and because the better the pianist, the louder he played. I would contend that if Schoenberg had heard this performance, he may never have transcribed it for orchestra. The balance, the contrasts, the variety of colour in each of the four movements contributed to an incredibly satisfying musical experience. Nobody with even an ounce of musical sensitivity could missed being thrilled by the hair-razing excitement of the finale. This was a concert to remember, and a day to savour!

Charles Richard-Hamelin and members of the Dover Quartet will perform with Fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Academy in three different concerts at 1pm, 4pm and 7:30pm, Saturday, July 20, 2019 in Walter Walter Hall.

Jhialiang Zhu, Alessia Disimino and Andrew Ascenzo of the Beford Trio​

Charles Richard-Hamelin in rehearsal; Photo credit: David Richards​

The afternoon dress rehearsal for the evening’s performance was more than a run-through. It was a glimpse into the inner-workings of one of North America’s leading ensembles. With no assigned seats, I took my place in the front row centre for a close-up perspective. The clarity of each individual performer was matched by the blend of the strings and the balance with the piano – stunning ensemble work. The quartet performed each movement of the Brahms straight through before going back over passages that they felt could benefit from a nuanced approach. There was respectful candor among the group. Some of the comments I heard from different members were:

               I’m loving this little detail. Could we stretch it a tiny bit?

               I feel like I’m going to beat everybody to the downbeat.

               That felt funky.

               If we could keep our right-hand calmer

They slowed down a few passages until the intonation was impeccable, suggested holding a tenuto here, or giving more shape to a phrase in another part. At the end of the rehearsal, Richard Hamelin invited the audience to stay behind while he ran through three selections from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Morceaux de fantasie, Op. 3 in preparation for the concert. The rehearsal left me full of anticipation for the evening concert and totally in awe of the musicianship, dedication, virtuosity and cohesiveness of the ensemble. 

Brahms Quartet in rehearsal​

 The performers, violinist Alessia Disimino, cellist Andrew Ascenzo and pianist Jialiang Zhu of the Bedford Trio, are not new to each other as is the case for most ensembles at the TSM Festival. This group from Toronto has been performing together for three years and has participated in the Orford Music Festival, Ottawa’s Chamber fest and was the first to be selected for the Irene R. Miller Piano Trio Residency at University of Toronto. Their performance yesterday was a testimony to the years time they have spent together. They put a smile on my face as I listened to the beauty of tone in the strings and the pianistic virtuosity. The third movement felt like being enveloped by a silk heavenly ribbon. The ensemble deserves to be heard ‘beyond borders’ on the international stage.

​​by David Richards
oronto ON July 20th 2019

Toronto Summer Music’s triple-header yesterday was more than the three members of the Bedford Trio in an Academy Concert and three members of the Dover Quartet in the evening it was the triple billing of two stunning performances and an equally impressive open rehearsal, Charles Richard-Hamelin was the headliner with a sold-out performance at U of T’s Walter Hall last night. Nevertheless, the humble superstar shared the day with two ensembles. A noon-hour concert at Heliconian Hall by the Bedford Trio and an open rehearsal of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.25 took place before the main event, a wonderful concert that featured Joel Link, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and Camden Shaw of the famed Dover Quartet along with Richard-Hamelin.

The day began with a stunning performance of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B flat Major Op. 97, “the Archduke” What a great masterpiece of elegance, lyric beauty, and spiritual serenity before ending with a joyful, yet heroic finale, complete with Beethovenesque surprises. 

The Bedford Trio: Alessia Disimino, violin; Jialiang Zhu, piano;
​and Andrew Ascenzo, cello