Leukaemia Research – John Lill

Sonata in D, K576
Carnaval, Op.9
Ballade in F minor, Op.52
Sonata in C minor, Op.111

John Lill (piano)

Reviewed by: Diarmuid Dunne

Reviewed: 26 October, 2004
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

John Lill gave his services for this celebration gala concert, one arranged by the 80-year-old John Wright, an organiser of festivals, not least that of Chelsea, who unfortunately suffers from leukaemia, and it was Leukaemia Research that benefited from just over £30,000 thanks to ticket sales and various donations associated to this recital. Mr Wright gave a speech to open the second half of this concert to detail such statistics.

Mozart’s final piano sonata is regarded by many as his best in the genre. As the only one written of a group intended as “six easy piano sonatas for Princess Frederika”, it manifestly fails to live up to its billing – its contrapuntal outer movements being quite tricky for even the most serious of pianists. John Lill is, of course, precisely that and handled the piece with deft touch and uncomplicated musicality. The opening Allegro was measured and playful, its light-hearted character being handled elegantly, and there was a sense of innocence about the Adagio, Lill’s sensitive touch eliciting a gentle cantabile quality from the music. The Allegretto had a touch of anxiety about it, and Lill executed the counterpoint with wit and taste.

As is often the case with Schumann, his Carnaval has complex romantic and artistic inspirations. Essentially a set of interwoven miniatures the music wanders playfully, romantically and dreamily to its conclusion, the triumphant ‘Marche des ‘Davidsbündler’ contre les Philistins’ where Schumann’s league of artists (the Davidsbündler) triumph over the philistines in an exultant dance finale. Lill approached the work with a relaxed but defined sense of structure. Distinct character was evident throughout; ‘Papillons’ was frenetic, ‘Lettres dansantes’ flighty, and ‘Chopin’ full of romanticism and melancholy. ‘Pantalon et Colombine’ had a demonstrative quality, and ‘Paganini’ cantered along with rhythm and bounce. The whole assemblage was brought to a rousing finale with the concluding march running away to its joyful conclusion.

After the interval and John Wright’s address, Chopin’s F minor Ballade was played with both respect and restraint, Lill opening with a near-religious calm and delivering the haunting melody with simplicity and grace. The development was measured and the virtuoso climax tastefully free from excess.

By any standards the preceding three performances had been superb, but when it comes to Beethoven, Lill has standards entirely his own. The two-movement C minor Sonata is both profound and visionary and the highest tribute I can give to Lill’s performance is that it did the music justice. His sombre nobility in the opening created a profound sense of occasion, and as Beethoven’s irrepressible intellect and passion presented themselves, Lill wove them into a greater whole that never wavered or failed to convince. The other movement, an ‘Arietta’ and highly contrasted variations, was delivered with poise and integrity, Lill’s penetrating lack of pretension filling the music with the deepest sense of sincerity and humility. A brief, but utopian rejoice gave way to repose, and the music shimmered as the long trills faded and gave way to silence.

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