32 Variations in C-minor, WoO80
Theme and Variations in D-minor
Piano Sonata No.3 in F-minor, Op.5
Llŷr Williams (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 3 October, 2018
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Llŷr Williams opened with his signature composer, Beethoven, his C-minor Variations in which the pianist immediately found qualities of touch and tone, exact balance between hands, and a wholesome appreciation of the music’s ground-plan through subtlety and strength, solemnity and scintillation. To begin the recital’s second half (once the lighting had been settled), another set of Variations, which Brahms adapted from the slow movement of his B-flat String Sextet, Opus 18, the soulful Theme richly enunciated by Williams, through to Baroque grandeur (Brahms a big fan of the music of yesteryear) to noble thoughts and introspective searching.
On a larger scale and more-extensive range, Robert Schumann’s relatively rare Humoreske, opening in dreamy nostalgia and then a showcase of mercurial moods – from white-hot propulsion to intimacy, from far-away places to soaring passions – all inimitable to the creator and caught by Williams with alacrity, whether songful or requiring rapid acceleration (electrifying at one point), or a grand passage that would pass as a Chopin Polonaise and a look-ahead to the piano’s postlude of Dichterliebe, Opus 48.
Brahms’s F-minor Sonata was less persuasive at times, the first movement especially, majestic rather than fire-and-brimstone, the exposition somewhat divided in structure, which initially made Williams’s decision to omit the repeat seem reasonable; however, the development was underplayed and halting, which reversed my opinion (we needed that second bite after all) – this is young man’s music yet it came across more as “blue remembered hills” (Housman rather than Dennis Potter). It appeared that Williams was telling a tale at the expense of musical design and overall proportion, for the slow movement further put the foreshortened opener in the shade, although on its own special terms it was played with spellbinding sensitivity to sustain an adagio approach to the marked Andante espressivo (it was certainly the latter requirement) and also looked ahead a few decades when Brahms would be sharing confidences through his pieces collected as Opuses 116-119.
From exquisiteness to energy for the Scherzo (taken attacca), a powerhouse traversal from Williams, who then made the Trio ease into melting loveliness. Williams also found the funereal drumbeats of the mysterious ‘Rückblick’ (looking back) and if he overdid the showier, speedier, aspects of the Finale (that said, the second subject was rapturous and the chorale was introduced as noteworthy), come the conclusion, with a well-timed ritardando and extra weight given to the clinching chords, earlier misgivings, although pertinent, had become less troubling. Llŷr Williams’s recital was officially over, but he went on to give a generous encore, Schubert’s G-flat Impromptu (D899/3), afforded due occasion and shaped for optimum eloquence. The International Piano Series, now in its thirtieth season, has got off to a distinctive start.