Miracles do happen even in Wimbledon especially when Louis Lortie is invited to ravish,seduce and astonish with his aristocratic authority and sensitivity.
Chopin Preludes of real weight where every one of these 24 ‘problems’ as Fou Ts’ong was won’t to say ,was given the time and shape to be moulded into gems in a crown of glorious poetic beauty.
Schumann having famously announced the arrival of Chopin with ‘Hats off ,gentlemen ,a genius’ when he heard Chopin’s op 2 ‘La ci darem la mano ‘ variations ,strangely exclaimed of the Preludes : “they are sketches, beginnings of études, or, so to speak, ruins, individual eagle pinions, all disorder and wild confusions.” Liszt’s opinion, however, was more positive: “Chopin’s Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart… they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams…” Chopin wrote them between 1835 and 1839, partly at Valldemossa in Mallorca ,where he spent a disastrous winter of 1838–39 having fled Paris with George Sand and her children to escape the damp.Chopin himself never played more than four of the preludes at any single public performance.Nor was this the practice for 25 years after his death.Nowadays it is more usual to hear the complete set than singly and Alfred Cortot in 1926 was one of the first to record them all.
Each prelude in Louis Lortie’s hands was a miniature tone poem of such poignancy and weight that this much loved worked still could take us by surprise.The grandeur and overwhelming climax to the ninth really did take me by the scruff of the neck!Largo ,legatissimo ,forte ,molto tenuto but then fortissimo to piano and yet again fortissimo at the end.Chopin’s indications are very clear but rarely followed with real poetic intent with a feeling that there is a narrative and a real story to be told.That was after the disarming simplicity of the fourth in E minor starting with barely a whisper but then gradually the melodic line more chiselled with the beating pulpitations of the left hand with jewels every so often allowed to gleam with prismatic importance.The silence too before the last three chords where Louis put his hands in his lap until with aristocratic dignity he placed them on the keyboard and allowed them to make the final poignant statement of farewell. The third too with the fleeting lightness of a gently flowing breeze on which sailed quixotically the melodic line which even drew a smile on Louis face as he too was enjoying this voyage of discovery.A voyage that he told me he had not made for fourteen years .It was this sense of discovery and recreation that was so enrapturing for all those present.There was the gentle weaving of vibrating sounds in the fifth building in intensity until finally disposed of with two impatient chords.There was red hot passion in the eighth played with burning intensity and superb control.The almost flippant jeux perlé of the tenth where the cascading notes just interrupted a sombre bass chorale.There was beautiful fluidity in the eleventh where his richness of texture gave such depth to the simple melodic contour.The twelfth played with rhythmic intensity and excitement only burning itself out with two very final fortissimo chords.I have never heard the fourteenth played with such character and red hot temperament like water boiling over at a hundred degrees ending quietly and surprisingly abruptly as though he had just had enough of that mini drama!The ravishing sound and sumptuous rubato in the middle section of the gloriously mellifluous thirteenth was quite magical as was the opening of the fifteenth ‘Raindrop’ prelude.
Always in Louis’ hands the richness of texture created by balance and subtle use of the pedal made the gradual appearance of the menacing central section so inevitable as it moved to dissonant clashing chords of heartrending anguish.The brilliance of the B flat minor Presto con fuoco was quite breathtaking not only for it’s control but for the washes of colour and shape he gave the endless stream of notes above the insistent left hand which was not allowed to falter for a moment until the all too final chords where in desperation he threw his arms in the air with wild abandon!The seventeenth was bathed in pedal that gave it a richness of texture where the final deep bass pedal notes allowed the melodic line to float on this wave of sound.The cadenza type prelude of number eighteen was played ‘piano’ as Chopin asks but rarely gets!In Louis hands it built in a gradual more agitated crescendo towards the tumultuous split chords and a leap from on high to the insistent bass notes hammered out with anger before complete silence of desolation and the final tumultuous fortississimo chords ………what a statement that was today!It was strange though that the nobility of the C minor twentieth prelude came in three layers each an echo of the other until the final chord that Louis hammered home with rather too much vehemence,especially considering that Chopin had indicated it to be played piano.But Louis is a human being of great temperament which on the spur of the moment can sometimes overwhelm even him!The octave prelude,number twenty two, where the melodic line was firmly planted in the bass with passionate drive and intensity before the disarmingly mellifluous penultimate prelude – jeux d’eau indeed.The final Allegro appassionato needed no prompting for our magnificent guide.Streams of notes like rockets shooting off in all directions with the throbbing insistence of the bass and the chiselled intensity of right hand octaves before the final last three bass notes.Should they be three hammered home or one note made to vibrate three times depends on the temperamenti of the artist.Here we were in no doubt that we were in the hands of a master whose every move we had to follow .A pied piper who is above all a poet with a unique story to tell-cradling the soul in golden dreams.
The subtle colours and quixotic changes of character that he brought to Scriabin’s op 11 opened a whole new sound world as Scriabin commenced his long journey in a quest to reach the stars.The 24 Preludes, Op. 11 were composed between 1888–96,being also one of Scriabin’s first published works with M.P. Belief in 1897,in Leipzig, together with his 12 Études, Op. 8 (1894–95).They were modelled after Chopin’s and they also cover the 24 major and minor keys following the same key sequence: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor and so on, alternating major keys with their relative minors, and following the ascending circle of fifths.Louis created a sound world out of which grew these sometimes fleetingly personal musings.A cocoon of velvet on which lay these ravishing little gems.There was also great passion in the fourteenth and hints of Chopin in the misterioso sixteenth.Great virtuosity in the Allegro agitato of number eighteen with its dynamic left hand octaves and the passionate outpouring of the twenty fourth.From the first to the last a ‘halo’ of sound was created of velvet richness that gave such architectural shape to such fragments of delicate thoughts and disturbing dreams.
What better way to celebrate Cesar Franck’s 200th anniversary than with his Prelude Chorale and Fugue when it is played with such weight and authority.A prelude bathed in mysterious colours with clouds of pedal and a chorale that was allowed to shine on high above magisterial spread chords.The bold entry of the fugue and its climax on which the sublime opening theme in this cyclic work floated into the air of St John’s ,as it must have done in St Clotilde in Paris , creating a magic that was to lead to the triumphant and nobly emphatic exultation of a true believer.
Prélude, Choral et Fugue, FWV 21 was written in 1884 by César Franck with his distinctive use of cyclic form.Franck had huge hands ,wide like the span of emotions he conveys,capable of spanning the interval of a 12th on the keyboard.This allowed him unusual flexibility in voice-leading between internal parts in fugal composition, and in the wide chords and stretches featured in much of his keyboard music.Of the famous Violin Sonata’s writing it has been said: “Franck, blissfully apt to forget that not every musician’s hands were as enormous as his own, littered the piano part (the last movement in particular) with major-tenth chords… most pianistic mortals ever since have been obliged to spread them in order to play them at all.”The key to his music may be found in his personality. His friends record that he was “a man of utmost humility, simplicity, reverence and industry.” Louis Vierne a pupil and later organist titulaire of Notre-Dame, wrote in his memoirs that Franck showed a “constant concern for the dignity of his art, for the nobility of his mission, and for the fervent sincerity of his sermon in sound… Joyous or melancholy, solemn or mystic, powerful or ethereal: Franck was all those at Sainte-Clotilde.”In his search to master new organ-playing techniques he was both challenged and stimulated by his third and last change in organ posts. On 22 January 1858, he became organist and maître de chapelle at the newly consecrated Sainte Clotilde (from 1896 the Basilique-Sainte-Clotilde), where he remained until his death. Eleven months later, the parish installed a new three-manual Cavaillé-Coll instrument,whereupon he was made titulaire.The impact of this organ on Franck’s performance and composition cannot be overestimated; together with his early pianistic experience it shaped his music-making for the remainder of his life.
A standing ovation was treated to Chopin’s ‘Tristesse’ study op 10 n 3 ( having played all 24 Etudes in Paris last week )……’How sweet is your heart……,’what a question to ask after a masterly recital by one of the greatest pianists before the public today and also one of the nicest most considerate of people we at the Kew Academy are privileged to know.