"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’."
Classical Source, Wigmore Hall recital, London
“Poetry fused with breathtaking technical perfection. A soloist with winged virtuosi fingers. This is first and foremost a musician that we had better follow very closely.”
Concert Classic, Louvre Auditorium, Paris
"Emmanuel Despax is a formidable talent, fleet of finger, elegant of phrase and a true keyboard colourist."
Gramophone, Signum concerto album
"This soloist is as comfortable with the spectacular as with the more subtle and introvert passages - all with an impeccable finish. Beautiful playing from a captivating virtuoso.”
Diapason, Signum concerto album
"A master colourist with genius-like ability ... There was some truly magisterial musicianship at work here, his pacing of the long closing dissolve faultless and Liszt’s prodigal pianistic effects seeming to be lit from within. As with all the best Liszt pianists, you got the feeling that Despax was not so much playing the music as directing it, an approach that worked brilliantly in the Ballade, the clarity of his finger work and of his thoroughly prepared overview defining its wild drama with no loss of spontaneity and distinguished by full-blooded, expressive generosity."
Classical Source, Wigmore Hall recital, London
"It's not just that he has a formidable technique, total control over the piano's tonal range and a flawless memory - but he has a penetrating intelligence and an easy charm when it comes to communicating with the audience. Despax played the complete set of Chopin's Preludes: one of the great pillars of romantic piano music, containing some of the composer's most famous melodies. Each was made to seem a miracle of concentration, whether the mood was happy, sad, energetic or relaxed. Throughout the performance there was wonderful clarity to the playing, with each Prelude emerging as a perfectly chiselled masterpiece. The tender sadness of No 4 and the sombre stateliness of No 20 were particularly moving; whereas the brilliance of Preludes such as Nos 16 and 19 was breathtaking, especially when speed had to be matched by an extreme delicacy of touch."
Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
"It would be too easy to fall back on clichés like ‘Gallic clarity and elegance’ to describe French pianist Emmanuel Despax’s recital, but those qualities helped make this one of the most impressive contributions to the Nottingham Royal Concert Hall’s Sunday morning piano series in its five-year history. From the rippling figuration of No 3 to the wistfulness of the tiny waltz that is No 7, the most familiar of all the Preludes, to the turbulence of Nos 8 and 14, each piece was vividly characterised, as were changes of mood within pieces, such as the tenth Prelude’s shift from filigree opening to darker central section. In the introspective No 6 the evenness of Despax’s repeated notes was notable, as it was in No 15, the misleadingly nicknamed ‘Raindrop’ Prelude – misleading because it surely misses the point. Despax rightly re-focused our attention on the operatic lyricism of Chopin’s melodic writing. Prelude No 20 is that paradoxical thing, a monumental miniature, and Despax succeeded in capturing its grandeur without misjudging its scale. In the final Prelude, No 24, there is lot happening in the lower octaves, but it never sounded muddy, and the three final tolling Ds way down in the depths rang out with a kind of burnished sombre radiance." Sound and Vision, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
"Hailed as a rising star, French-born Emmanuel Despax excelled, living up to the accolades of rapturous superlatives that audiences and reviewers around the world have showered upon him. From the initial fierce descending attack by the piano in the first movement Despax breathed new life into this popular work. His flawless technique, sense of precision in working with the orchestra and his ability to project an unassuming strength of emotion created a spellbinding performance."
THE PRESS, Schumann concerto, CSO Masterworks Series, New Zealand
"In Liszt's Second Ballade Despax produced passages of intense beauty, helping transcend the work before menace and tempestuous howling devour the plaintive opening. Here was an outstanding performance by a young musician of great potential"
Musical Opinion, Cadogan Hall, London