Patrick Hemmerlé at St Mary’s The Mastery and Mistery of a fervent believer

Tuesday 21 February 3.00 pm 

Masterly performances of a fervent believer.
B minor obviously has a great significance for a true believer.
The most profound work of all time is surely the Bach Mass in B minor a true declamation of faith.
And so it was today that Patrick Hemmerlé chose a programme where every work was in B minor even the final encore with the Prelude in B minor by Bach/Siloti.
The Bach Prelude and Fugue in B minor Book 1 with it’s prophetic twelve tone yearning fugue subject after the religious procession of the prelude.The deep insistent yearning also of the appoggiaturas in Cesar Franck with its final declaration of glory and exultation.
The Liszt Sonata restored to its greatness by a true musician where the opening themes on the first page were leading to the fervent explosion on the second.Such aristocratic grandeur of timeless wonder in the passionate climaxes with the remarkable left hand marcato that led us into the Andante sostenuto and so to the heart of the sonata that is the Adagio.
It was all played with such inevitable logic, links in a chain and of course it is this that links too the Franck with the Liszt.
Not only the transformation of themes within a formula but the passion not of ‘gigoloistic’ virtuosity but of deep profound sentiment.
Remarkable performances that I knew from Patrick would never be less than musicianly but today there was an overwhelming authority and conviction that should be an example to all those that dare open the first page of this pinnacle of the romantic piano repertoire.

The Prelude is a model trio sonata. Above a calmly progressing bass, two upper parts blend together intimately. Five bars before the end comes the surprise of a ‘Trugschluss’, an almost-but-not-quite ending. And because this has already misled us, Bach then lets the bass usher in the real final chord half a bar ‘too early’.
The fugue, which is the longest one in the whole Well – Tempered Clavier is remarkably austere in construction. The theme, on the other hand, uses all the tones of the octave with the music is moving, but not without effort, as there are only a few interludes to break the chromaticism that is hard to understand. Bach biographer Spitta wrote that this stirring music “made the expression of pain almost unbearable”. And indeed, even though Bach did not really have a choice, the key of B minor did stand for melancholy in the Baroque.
As Patrick said in his introduction all the works on his programme are in B minor as they follow the path from suffering to redemption.
And it was this first work that was a holy procession played with absolute clarity and subtle pointing of the counterpoints with the deep bass notes that appear on the horizon leading us to the final magical major chord.
The four voice fugue was strangely detached and I felt it surely should be more legato with its yearning leaning appoggiaturas?It is the longest fugue of the ‘forty eight’ however,and it was played with serene authority of architectural shape with the deep bass entry of the subject of great poignancy.A stately procession played with respect and religious fervour.
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.
Patrick’s performance was created from the bass upwards which gave a very solid anchor to Franck’s etherial opening.There was beauty in the tenor doubling of the melodic line which gave great depth to the overall structure and created a velvet beauty of sumptuous sound.
The ‘religious’ silences were golden indeed and were just as expressive as the actual notes that surrounded them.There was a brooding build up of ever fuller sounds and a leaning on the appoggiaturas that gave poetic meaning to the yearning for religious faith.There were the deep meditative sounds of the chorale always from the bass upwards and even the stately interludes between the arpeggiated chorale were played with a deep significance where they are so often thrown off lightly,instead here was an organ like fervently rich melodic line.The absolute clarity of the fugue where the appogiaturas again took on a religious significance of yearning and there was magic in the air as the opening theme returned on a sumptuous carpet of etherial sounds.The gradual build up of sonority showed masterly control arriving at the glory and passion of a true believer.
The triumphant ending was a glorious outpouring or release of tension as the music reached for the visionary heights.
The Liszt Sonata was dedicated to Schumann,in return for Schumann’s dedication of his fantasie op 17 (published 1839) to Liszt.A copy of the work arrived at Schumann’s house in May 1854, after he had entered Endenich sanatorium.Clara Schumann never performed the Sonata despite her marriage to Robert Schumann; she is reported to have found it “merely a blind noise”The Sonata was published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1854 and first performed on 27 January 1857 in Berlin by Hans von Bulow.It was attacked by a critic who said “anyone who has heard it and finds it beautiful is beyond help”.Brahms reputedly fell asleep when Liszt performed the work in 1853.However, it drew enthusiasm from Wagner following a private performance of the piece by karl Klindworth on April 5, 1855.Otto Gumprecht of the German newspaper Nationalzeitung referred to it as “an invitation to hissing and stomping”.It took a long time for the Sonata to become commonplace in concert repertoire, because of its technical difficulty and negative initial reception due to its status as “new” music.The quiet ending of the Sonata was an afterthought; the original manuscript contains a crossed-out ending section which would have ended the work in a loud flourish instead.
The opening page of this Sonata is a true test of musicianship over showmanship but it is the rock on which Liszt builds this masterpiece that was to have such an impact on his father in law.Patrick had complete control where every note had a significance even in the most virtuosistic passages.His sense of weight and legato allied to an impeccable sense of balance made the overall musical line so clear.Even at the height of the most passionate outpourings as in the final great climax there was a sense of line,architectural shape and aristocratic grandeur that was remarkable and brought to mind the monumental performances of Claudio Arrau.
The original triumphant ending later changed with a stroke of genius for the final remarkable pages and visionary ending

Acclaimed for the originality of his concert programmes and the depth of his interpretations, Patrick Hemmerlé is a French pianist living in England. He can often be heard performing such works as the 24 Chopin Etudes, the 48 Bach Prelude and Fugues, or lesser-known composers. Recent engagements have taken him to New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and Prague, as well as many festivals and music society in England. Patrick has published 3 CDs, which have been well received by the international press. His latest recording project, to be issued in 2020 is a pairing of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and Fischer’s Ariadne Musica. He is in demand as a lecturer. He has given talks for the Cambridge University, as well as a cycle of concert-lectures on French music, presenting composers little known to the general public,. This led to the recordings of the piano music of Jean Roger-Ducasse and Maurice Emmanuel. Patrick is laureate of the international competition of Valencia, Toledo, Epinal, Grossetto, and more recently the CFRPM, in Paris, where his interpretation of Villa-Lobos’s Rudepoema, raised a great deal of interest. He was trained in Paris at the Conservatoire (CNR), under the tuition of Billy Eidi.


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