Piano Sonata in D minor, Op.31/2 (Tempest)
Gaspard de la nuit
Prélude, Choral et Fugue
Nocturne No.4 in E flat, Op.36
Impromptu No.3 in A flat, Op.34
Trois grande études de concert No.2: La Leggierezza
Iwan Llewelyn-Jones (piano)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 22 February, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Iwan Llewelyn-Jones is one of a new generation of British pianists who have gradually been making an international reputation. By his own admission he has a particular liking for the Romantic and French repertoire, so it was interesting to hear how he would approach that great bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras: Beethoven.The arpeggio introduction to the Tempest is only a couple of bars long but must contain a sense of anticipation. Llewelyn-Jones did achieve this and the ensuing Allegro was crisply played; but the references to the opening were too slow, and in the development there was one point where the performance almost came to a halt. Schnabel used a similar tempo here but still conveyed forward movement. In the Adagio the tempo was certainly slow but the bass triplets that conclude the first subject were not threatening and there was a sense of emotional aloofness throughout; and the finale lacked tension in the first subject semiquavers. This movement is in effect a moto perpetuo, but this element was missing.
Rather more seriously, the performance was also compromised – as was the Ravel – by the indiscriminate use of the sustaining pedal, which precluded any sense of tonal contrast. There do seem to be a lot of pianists who fall into this trap. The Wigmore Hall’s acoustic is well-nigh perfect and the pianos of exceptional quality – factors which make over-use of the pedal unnecessary.
Gaspard is one of the most technically difficult pieces in the repertoire, requiring as it does an exceptional command of rhythm, shading and dynamics. Here, again due the pedal problem, there was absolutely no sense of tonal nuance – just a warm mushy glow. In ‘Ondine’ Llewelyn-Jones failed to convey a sense of the ebb and flow of the water-nymph’s melancholy and the waves beneath to which she retreats; in ‘Le gibet’, while the tempo was Lent there was no sense of the macabre as the corpse swings in the setting sun accompanied by the sound of distant bells, and the ominous tolling bass chords in the coda were particularly unthreatening. Much the same could be said of Scarbo – a general wash of sound.
The second half brought less pedal and far cleaner sound – but interpretative insight was still in short supply. The Franck lacked inner tension and a sense of inexorable logic in the fugue; the Fauré pieces just flowed effortlessly by. Of the Liszt the first had the requisite gossamer sound but more fluid phrasing and a greater sense of the work’s chromaticism was needed. The Tarantelle needs an ability to mould phrases with rhythmic and dynamic élan and to take risks – all of which seem to be frowned upon today. Llewelyn-Jones was efficient but without soul.