BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts – Beethoven Piano Sonatas – 5: Llŷr Williams [Opuses 14/2 & 54 and Pastoral Sonata]

Piano Sonata No.10 in G, Op.14/2
Piano Sonata No.22 in F, Op.54
Piano Sonata No.15 in D, Op.28 (Pastoral)

Llŷr Williams (piano)

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 6 October, 2011
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London

Returning for his second and final lunchtime in BBC Radio 3/LSO St Luke’s complete Beethoven piano sonata survey, Llŷr Williams turned from the intimate and personal sonatas of his first recital to a major-key set that also contrasted nicely with Khatia Buniatishvili’s minor-key trio of sonatas last week.

Before the rustic drone that opens the ‘Pastoral’ Sonata, we had two of Beethoven’s ‘Cinderella’ pieces – the sonatas rarely programmed for their own sake and usually only aired in complete cycles. The G major is the second of the two slighter works composed around the same time as the ‘Pathétique’ Sonata, one of the composer’s last works to be published in the 18th-century. The opening movement’s theme is split between the pianist’s hands and is rather tricky, although it seemed to present Llŷr Williams with no problems at all. It struck me that should Williams choose in later life to take up conducting, he might be an ideal Bruckner conductor: his stage manner is all stillness and his music-making retains a calm sense of line, however hectic the notation. But there’s also impishness in Williams’s playing. In the curious set of variations of the second movement his mercurial address and glance audience-wards on the final loud chords encompassed the mischievousness of the music so well it was greeted with spontaneous applause, even before the intricate intertwining of the finale: proof, as Johnson reminded us, that Beethoven did have a sense of humour. In the F major Sonata, nestling between the giants that are the ‘Waldstein’ and ‘Appassionata’, Williams also excelled, judging nicely the contrasting triplets and thunderous octaves of the opening movement and the finale’s propulsion.

Following a brief demonstration as to the difficulties of controlling the drone element of the ‘Pastoral’, and pointing to some other country references (particularly the first movement’s cascades, like waterfalls), Williams gave us by far the most famous sonata, enhanced by the almost water-like shadow-play from the sun streaming through the wind-strewn leaves on the trees outside, creating a dappling affect across the audience. This was a loving, evocative performance, matching the nickname, even if it was not given to it by Beethoven. Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 13 December.

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