Review: Charles Richard-Hamelin and Andrew Wan combine their skills in brilliant concert

Charles Richard-Hamelin. Photo: Elizabeth Delage

When you bring two young classical music lions together, one of three things can happen:

One musician ends up completely dominating the other. Or their two egos conflict and clash. More rarely, their styles fuse harmoniously; like star athletes playing on the same team, their supportive camaraderie mixed with a friendly spirit of competition that inspires brilliance.

This last scenario was Saturday night’s high-score outcome when pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin joined up with violinist Andrew Wan for an all-Beethoven program at Southminster United Church.

Andrew wan. Photo courtesy Montreal Symphony Orchestra

Richard-Hamelin, 28, is the Quebec pianist who took the classical music world by storm two years ago when he won second prize at the Chopin Competition. Wan, who is just 34, has already been concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra for nearly a decade. Both have appeared as soloists several times in the Ottawa area (Wan performed in the local premiere of Alexina Louie’s concerto for three violins with NACO in October), but this was their first concert here as a duo.

The pair is getting set to record the complete Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano, and will also be touring Canada to eventually perform all 10 sonatas. To close the fall edition of Concerts by the Canal, Richard-Hamelin and Wan played the the three “middle” sonatas, Op. 30 Nos. 1,2, and 3.

The first thing you notice about these two is their similar approach to performance. They share a keen, no-nonsense focus; their playing is physically dynamic and spontaneously expressive without theatrics or distracting mannerisms. Richard-Hamelin’s deep, powerful sound perfectly complements Wan’s lean, clear, luminous projection.

This was unabashedly romantic Beethoven, full of vivid, stormy contrasts, lush phrasing and fiery virtuosity. In the Sonata No. 6 in A major, the Adagio showed delicate introspection, with beautiful vocal balance between the two instruments, leading into the jaunty optimism of the Allegretto.  Sonata No. 8 in G major was sly, twinkling and playful, while the Sonata No. 7 in C minor combined enigmatic shading with an electrifying sense of drama–the pair devoured the Finale at a truly ferocious tempo.

If you missed Saturday’s concert, the pair will repeat the program in Almonte on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. (


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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.