When the audience’s expectation (which is always very high at Breinton!) and the performance level and quality meet precisely, there is profound sense of satisfaction. Organisers of any concert series would find this irreplaceably pleasing.

Just Handel and Chopin. Emmanuel Despax’s programme was simple yet beautiful. 

Emmanuel started off with the magnificent Chaconne in G major by introducing a dance theme in a majestic, time-honoured manner; to me it was as if replicating the ambiance and flavour of a harpsichord. The early variations grew animated and playful, each played with an immaculate dexterity; then came the contemplative minor Variation 9, which sparkled with Emmanuel’s most delicate touch. When the major key re-emerged, the mood change was noticeably beaming, bringing this work to a happy ending. Each variation was repeated twice, which we enjoyed immensely; in the repeat, it was expanded and explored with the pianist’s feeling and imagination. It was a bit like a jazz improvisation, requiring the artist’s impromptu skill to ornament the original variation as a ‘template’ (Emmanuel’s own description). I’m sure it will be different next time he performs this work!

A couple of weeks ago, a curious discussion erupted after one of my Facebook acquaintances popped a question: “Why do young musicians these days want to play louder and faster?” I go to many concerts, and often come across this type of pianist – loud and fast. Sometimes I wonder what their teachers are teaching them; perhaps these poor young performers are getting the wrong message? I value highly the performers’ effort and care towards sound making and artistic expression, which is directly connected to their personality. The sound and tonal quality is crucial at a venue like Breinton. With Chopin’s 24 Preludes, I felt Emmanuel was a true artist who cared about every note he played, at a pace which we could appreciate. 

Emmanuel’s version of Chopin’s 24 Preludes was a result of his extreme sincerity to the music (he said he has been studying Chopin’s original score, “without the additions and changes by publishers”) and his artistic imagination. It was crafted and structured with an acutely analytical mind, and the range of sounds were carefully chosen. To my surprise, despite having heard it so many times performed by different pianists, I picked up several notes which I had never knew existed! His voicing skill was noteworthy, particularly in the Prelude No. 13 when the right hand sang with a melody like a bell floating in the air, enhanced with the gentle tone for the left-hand accompaniment. We also enjoyed the art of pedalling; the sustain pedalled sounds did an amazing trick to connect from one prelude to another.

Emmanuel gave an insightful talk on both pieces he played. This contributed greatly to our already wonderful evening – it helped us focus on the music at a different level with this freshly acquired knowledge!