Chichester Cathedral Lunchtime Concerts series: Patrick Hemmerlé, piano

If there were only sunlight on water was the first line of a little-known, otherwise untitled 1990’s poem, little known because it was by me. Whereas the poem moves on to other ideas, Patrick Hemmerlé’s 50-minute set in Chichester today explored it thoroughly. A poetry competition on a dedicated theme will find many poems doing very much the same thing and it was as if that had happened here with six composers describing water and light. But while they could almost have been the same piece, they could be differentiated by paying attention to them.

Barcarolle is a boat song and Chopin op. 60 was a song tinged with sadness but sprinkled with light and harmony. Liszt’s glittering opening to Les Jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este led to some pensive rather than flamboyant Liszt, mesmerising and testing the top limits of the keyboard as others were to do, that being where the shiniest light is. After which, we were French and suitably ‘impressionist’, which, of course the painters labelled as such said that they weren’t but they could hardly deny they were interested in light.

Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau had a busy surface pattern with eddies and maybe whirlpools. We need to be careful if tempted to imagine stories in music in case they weren’t meant to be there but surely the stillness of the ending was the light fading and the reflets with it.

Ravel’s Jeux d’eaux was a different take on the Liszt with the light dancing. I’ve never been a believer in synethesia, seeing colours when hearing music, not being sensitive enough to have it happen to me, but I got as close to it as I’m likely to with the yellow and white one is prompted to imagine in this. Oddly, one result from looking it up on Google has it as a ‘disorder’. I’d have thought it was a gift.

Patrick is a ‘strong advocate of music by lesser-known composers’ and so one need worry less if Déodat de Séverac and Gabriel Dupont, contemporaries of Ravel, have so far escaped our notice. Séverac’s skittish Baigneuses au soleil was the most modernist of today’s programme whereas the Dupont Le Soleil se joue dans les vagues was quicker, louder and more expansive and found its way towards more of a tune than impressions to end a little bit closer to where we began.

Patrick, the notes told us, has The Well-Tempered Klavier in his repertoire as well as Chopin’s 24 Etudes. This was a highly enjoyable set of variations on a strictly-defined theme and musicians might be encouraged to find other such themes to explore but maybe next time he comes our way, on what looks like a busy schedule, we might get some Bach.

Meanwhile there’ll be plenty more on Saturday in the Central Library as a fine selection of local talent including the great Valya and Karen Kingsley have a go on the Steinway, Steinway Concert. But it’s ‘sold out’, which I’m glad to see and was ever likely to happen when that much talent is on show for free. If you’re not already on the list, come back here and I’ll tell you what it was like.

David Green

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