Following Barry Douglas’s opening recital in this complete Beethoven piano sonata series at LSO St Luke’s, it was the turn of Llŷr Williams, who recently completed a complete traversal of this repertoire at the Edinburgh Fringe. These three sonatas created a satisfying unity in encompassing some of the composer’s most heartfelt and intimate inspirations.
The icy chill of the D major Sonata’s slow movement, marked Mesto (sad) may seem at odds to the brusque playfulness of the other movements, but Williams brought it off magnificently in his concentrated and unfussy way, allowing the music to speak on its own terms, with his left ear cocked and angled down to the keyboard, slightly looking to his right (as if to check the audience was listening as attentively as him).
The connection with the more illustrative sonatas – Opuses 78 and 81a – the former dedicated to one of his closest acquaintances, Theresa von Brunsvik, and the latter depicting Archduke Rudolph’s expedient departure from Vienna in the face of French bombardment of the city, was apposite and elucidated by Williams himself in a short interview; he was wickedly funny about Beethoven’s freestyle use of tempo markings in ‘Les adieux’, not only mentioning his attempts to use elaborate vernacular explanations, but also – in explaining the unusual vivacissimamente
marking for the finale – noting that Beethoven wasn’t beyond making up words to describe what his music is about.
Williams is not one for elaborate gestures at the piano, a visual facet that enhances his ability to make you concentrate on the music. In playing such intimate utterances from Beethoven’s canon (though not without their virtuosic climaxes), Williams produced a perfect gem of a recital that allowed us a very human insight into the composer’s music. Llŷr Williams is back on 6 October and this current recital is on BBC Radio 3 on 7 December.