Carnaval, Op.9 Brahms
2 Rhapsodies, Op.79 – No.1 in B minor; No.2 in G minor
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op.24
John Lill (piano)
John Lill at Royal Festival Hall
Sunday, November 01, 2009 Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
John Lill opened this thoughtful, well-proportioned matinee recital (given as part of the Southbank Centre’s “International Piano Series”) with a performance of Kinderszenen that began with the gentlest of touches, innocence and nostalgia to the fore (if tinged by experience), each of the thirteen miniatures perfectly to scale, and finely crafted, yet with a largesse that elevated the music to more than a set of character pieces, most notably in a tender ‘Traümerei’ (serene and unaffected) and profoundly expressive in the closing ‘Der Dichter spricht’ (poetic indeed). Carnaval was introduced in full-blooded style and galloped into life; once again, Lill’s success was to invest each section with unimpeachable musicianship, catching changes of mood unerringly and threading them so that the closing ‘March’ was not only magnificent but also inevitable.
Just occasionally one missed an element of whimsy in Schumann’s expression, but the Brahms pieces were deeply and completely satisfying, the Two Rhapsodies played with technical suppleness and emotional fire and musing – as well as underlying logic – the G minor being especially hypnotic in its flexibility and seriousness of purpose. To end the concert, Handel’s Theme was crisply delivered, the first of Brahms’s Variations on it given with foot-tapping vitality, ensuing that contrasts – either of personality or dynamics – were often captivating and part of the whole, the closing Fugue glorious in its arrival at the summit.
As an encore to a demanding but not a second too long recital, Lill offered an Intermezzo in B flat minor (the second of Brahms’s Piano Pieces, Opus 117) with the insight and integrity that was typical of his inspiring playing throughout the afternoon.