Adrian Brendle at St Giles’ Cripplegate The Myra Hess National Gallery Concert
The National Gallery Myra Hess Lunchtime Piano Recital with Adrian Brendle.
It was Ian Maclay and Jenny Robinson of Kestrel Music Promotions that approached the Keyboard Charitable Trust to recommend two pianists from their star roster for two entirely different Summer Concerts in London.
One was the Parisian Summer Nights in Cadogan Hall with the London Mozart Players in a programme that included the Faure Pavane and Requiem with the City of London Choir under its resident conductor Hilary Davan Wetton.
The Ravel G major piano concerto was also in the programme and a pianist of refined ,aristocratic taste was needed.
Who better than Vitaly Pisarenko who had given a magical account of Ravel’s Miroirs at his Wigmore Hall debut a year ago which was much admired by Graham Johnson who was present at this exquisite performance of the Piano Concerto a month ago.
The hunt was also on for a pianist who could perform the same programme that Myra Hess had performed in 1939.
A pianist with the same musical pedigree and pianistic sensibility for the classical repertoire.
“A festival of beautiful music and words in stunning historic churches,marking one hundred years since the end of the Great War.” under the title ” Swords and Ploughshares”.
It just so happened that a young German pianist had just been publicly auditioned for the KCT and had given a remarkably fine performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata.
Here was a true musician that could indeed pay homage to Dame Myra Hess and justify Kenneth Clark’s remark on that first recital in a National Gallery at the beginning of the Second World War.
“The moment when she played the opening bars of the Appassionata” Clark reflected,” will always remain for me one of the great experiences of my life”.
“Every picture had been taken away” he later reflected,” but the frames remained and multiplied the general emptiness with a series of smaller emptinesses”.
When he returned to the Gallery,after the first all absorbing task of evacuation, he walked around those large ,dirty,ill-proportioned rooms,in deep depression.
It was out of this overwhelming sense of despair that grew a deep conviction that the Gallery had to find alternative ways of staying “alive” and of being of service to the people.
And so it was on the 10th October 1939 that Myra Hess had volunteered to give the inaugural concert thinking only a few family and friends would show up.
In the morning of this lunchtime concert queues started to form and it was only the lucky first thousand that could enter what was to become the first of many memorable war concerts.
Myra Hess had been a pupil of Uncle Tobbs (Tobias Matthay) at the Royal Academy and had become a celebrated artist in England and in America.
Her fee in America was the same as Jasha Heifetz such was the demand for this much loved British pianist.
It is no coincidence,I learn after,that in Ian Fountain’s studio in the RAM is a large portrait of Myra Hess.
I too used to have lessons in Room 28 next to the Tobias Matthay room that still had the famous triangle on show.
Matthay was renowned for his method of extreme flexibility of the hand and sensibility to touch and sounds produced and for his attention to musical values.
Two busts of his two most famous students Dame Myra Hess and Dame Moura Lympany sit proudly in the vestibule of the RAM.
A Brendle too has certain serious ring to it !
Alfred Brendel was indeed amused a few years ago to see an A.Brendle listed alongside his in a concert calendar in Vienna .
Adrian Brendle the pianist not to be confused with Adrian Brendel ,Alfred’s cellist son, is studying with Ian Fountain at the Royal Academy in London.Having graduated from the University of Karlsruhe under the guidance of that renowned pianist and pedagogue Sontraud Speidel (also the teacher of another KCT artist Florian Heinisch).
He has only ever had two teachers but both with impeccable credentials .
Ian Fountain the only British pianist to have won the Rubinstein Competition tells me he is now editing the Diabelli variations for the Henle Edition.
A true thinking musician following and monitoring his young colleague.
Listening intently to the concert it was indeed refreshing and rare to see a Master following and encouraging his young disciple .
A Bechstein Concert Grand was especially on loan from Jaques Samuel Pianos Ltd and it is to be remembered that Bechstein at one stage was the preferred instrument of so many famous musicians.
Enough to say that the original name of the Wigmore Hall was Bechstein Hall .
I remember Rosalyn Tureck confiding that her preferred piano was the old mellow sounding Bechstein.
I like to think that the Bechstein was also a very touching tribute to Dame Myra Hess today.
The main work on the programme was the Appassionata Sonata played as only a true musician can.
With the eagle eye of Ian Fountain making sure that Beethoven’s every intention was scrupulously followed.
No splitting of the hands in the great arpeggios as many ” pianists” see fit to do to give more power and assurance .
But the sweeping lines that Beethoven draws were played with just the assurance but with a sense of struggle that is also an integral part of the music.
The contrasts in the first movement can be so startling with Beethoven’s personality already verging on the schizophrenic that was to become so apparent in his later works as his struggle against physical problems became ever more unrelenting.
Here the contrasts were even more apparent for the very subtle silences that were added by a pianist who was actually listening so attentively to the sounds that he was producing and the effect that they were having on the whole.
Very impressive were the enormous washes of sound before the final explosion of the coda and the dying away to almost nothing without any rallentando but with a scrupulous attention to the ” meaning” of Beethoven’s pedal indications.
A second movement con moto and not an inch of sentimentality that can so easily enter in lesser hands.
The last movement played at just the right tempo that allowed the Presto and arpeggios to be so full of excitement and inevitably final.
The great C sharp minor five part fugue is one of the great miracles of music and was given a fine if rather too carefully respectful performance.
This is Bach- Busoni but without Busoni and there can be a whole world in this Fugue of which I am sure Dame Myra would have been well aware.
The three Intermezzi by Brahms from op 119 were exquisitely played .This Bechstein piano allowing a noble but cream rich cantabile that was so right for Brahms’s such intimate utterings .
The great F sharp Nocturne op 15 was played with aristocratic good taste and if the Waltz in E flat op 18 was a little too fast it was because this young man was enjoying himself and allowing himself a little fun too.
“Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” ,the piece that Myra Hess will always be known for was played with great respect and sense of balance that allowed the melody from Bach’s Cantata n.147 to sing encircled by the most subtle harmonic counterpoint.
A fitting end for this concert in St Giles’ Cripplegate ,the church that had survived two wars and sits the other side of the Barbican lake in the centre of London.
A true ovation from an enthusiastic public was rewarded with a quite beautiful performance of the Prelude in G sharp minor op 32 n.12 by Rachmaninov .
Not sure that Dame Myra would have approved but we certainly did!