Llŷr Williams – Pictures at an Exhibition

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0 of 5 stars

Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition
Debussy
Estampes
Liszt
Années de Pèlerinage: Year 2, Italie – Sposalizio
Années de Pèlerinage: Year 3 – Les Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este
Ave Maria, Die Glocken von Rom

Llŷr Williams (piano)

Recorded 20-22 November 2009 at Wyastone, Monmouthshire


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2010
CD No: SIGNUM CLASSICS
SIGCD 226
Duration: 74 minutes

There have been times when Llŷr Williams has seemed rather an earnest interpreter of his chosen music, the intellect engaged but not the emotions. Such dispassion has put a barrier between him and the listener. With this recording, often requiring a painterly approach to interpretation, Williams engages in all departments. This is a vivid Pictures at an Exhibition, astute as to the work’s progression and also alive to suggestive nuances for each of Victor Hartmann’s images. There’s bags of confidence here from Williams, poise too, not least in the several ‘Promenade’ sections in which the viewer to the showing thoughtfully goes from one canvas to another: each of these is vibrantly drawn, with dexterity and grandeur, and with solemnity and menace, each depiction made individual as well as part of a chain. Williams avoids exaggeration, his phrasing is smooth, his tempos always giusto, his sense of line impeccable. This may not be the most colourful of Pictures, yet a certain gravity seems to work well in Mussorgsky’s chosen medium of the pianoforte (amazing how many arrangements of this so-popular work now exist, and how often we hear Ravel’s orchestration of it).

The Debussy could be more colourful though, and a little more subtle at times; there isn’t enough mystery in ‘Pagodes’ and the rather ‘cold’ and swelling acoustic in which this recording was made in isn’t always well-enough judged in terms of fortissimos; it may well be though that Debussy, who was not keen on the term ‘Impressionism’, would have approved of the rather hard-edge account that is created and preserved here. The three pieces by Liszt that complete this release show Williams at his finest, a richly intense ‘Sposalizio’, a masterly ‘Les Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este’, immaculately performed and so evocative (even allowing the sound exacerbates treble frequencies), and the closing Ave Maria that is quietly sombre yet with inner life enough be as pictorial as any of the music that precedes it.

Reservations about the sound, yes, but musically Llŷr Williams here displays a rewarding balance between heart and head, as well as presenting each work as a whole without denuding the various episodes that are essential facets to such completeness.

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