Sonata in E flat, HobXVI:52 Schumann
Humoreske, Op.20 Beethoven
Sonata in F, Op.54 Liszt
Sonata in B minor
John Lill (piano)
John Lill Recital
Sunday, October 27, 2002 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
John Lill has regularly evinced a balance between poise and impulsiveness in his pianism. So the present recital, two contrasting Classical sonatas leading into two complementary Romantic masterworks, was both typical and inspired in its programming.
The most virile of Haydns trilogy of sonatas from 1794, the E flat opens with an impressively cumulative sonata-Allegro, followed by an Adagio whose harmonic richness places it within the sphere of the last eight quartets. Lill did justice to both, then moved up a gear for the Presto its moto perpetuo traversal through rondo-form hardly chugging merrily along (to quote the programme note) on this occasion.
If Haydns sonata is his most Beethovenian, Beethovens Op.54 sonata is his most Haydnesque in spirit if not in outward form. One of his most abstractly musical too, with a Minuet-like movement which plays cat-and-mouse with starkly opposed ideas, and an Allegretto whose Bachian figuration goes through the range of keys in its circular movement away from and back to its starting point. Not so much a refutation of its Napoleonic context as a complete divorce from it, and played here with unassuming mastery.
The first half had concluded with Schumanns Humoreske the most typical of his large-scale piano works in its ambivalence of form and manner. Nominally continuous, its five apparent sections each comprise a number of contrasting mood-pieces that gel only in the context of the whole piece. It was at this level that Lill excelled, with lucidity to each component that sustained the music effortlessly over its 28-minute span. Therefore passing felicities were subsumed into the overall flow to give the music an unadorned quality which some will have felt at-odds with its flights of fancy. Your reviewer, however, was captivated by the work as never before.
Not a description one would level at Liszts B minor sonata, transcendental writing allied to a form not so much organic as self-developing. Again, it was this sense of musical ideas re-emerging in ever-new contexts, as the expanded but surprisingly clear-cut sonata-movement took shape, which was the most impressive aspect of Lills interpretation. Not that virtuosity was lacking, witness the double fugue which functions as the real development, only that it was evident as a by-product of the discourse rather than its raison detre. The latter is enshrined in the poetic fatalism from which the work emerges and to which it inevitably returns rendered here with unaffected rightness.
No encore was forthcoming but after a 90-minute programme as well-balanced and persuasively realised as this, anything extra would have served little purpose, or been negative. Lills integrity and concern for "long-term thought", of which he wrote in his programme note, was evident at every level of his recital. We are fortunate that such matters mean so much to him and that he conveys them so tangibly in his music-making.