The French pianist Emmanuel Despax is fast gathering a following and his Wigmore Hall recital displayed technical brilliance and individuality of interpretation in a wide-ranging programme.
Handel’s Chaconne made a majestic opening, its dance like Theme and twenty-one Variations containing a world of emotion within the formal constraints. Despax gave a personal account embellished with his own ornamentation. The adagio provided an effective emotional centre and led to an increasingly decorated and exciting climax.
Composed in 1904 and 1905, Ravel’s Miroirs still have the power to shock as well as thrill, especially from a pianist capable of mastering their enormous technical, interpretational and breaking-free demands. ‘Noctuelles’ is characterised by fluttering figures around a main theme, akin to an improvisation recalled Ravel’s pianist-friend Ricardo Viñes. Despax’s approach to the set was powerful yet transparent and flexible. He rose to the challenge of the vigorous Spanish rhythms of ‘Alborada del gracioso’ with grace and energy, and the sequence closed with the exquisite resonance of ‘La vallée des cloches’.
Chopin's 24 Preludes explore each major and minor key. Despax brought the same quality of introspective improvisation, as well as the required virtuosity, to them, and those of a darker, melancholy hue were the most memorable (such as II, IV, VI and XV), which sat happily with the ethereal nature to be found of Miroirs. This thought-provoking and successful juxtaposition of music was rounded by two encores, a beautiful reading of Chopin’s Berceuse and then Despax’s arrangement in Bach/Busoni style of ‘Silent Night’.