Chamber Music No.4

Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39
In the Mists
Piano Sonata No.5

Llŷr Williams (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 9 August, 2004
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

This ambitious, well-constructed programme introduced the young Welshman’s notably beautiful sound. Throughout this demanding recital there was never an ugly note or anything forced. Nor was there any doubt as to Llŷr Williams’s technical command or musicality.

It takes a certain chutzpah to begin with Chopin’s C sharp minor Scherzo. Williams made a case for it purely as music rather than for pianistic wizardry, and this gallery-eschewing process uncovered an interior quality, for example the delicate descending cascades before the tumultuous coda were subtly varied in tone, as if a distant memory of their first appearance.

The recital’s other pieces were written between 1903 and 1911. In Estampes Debussy makes the leap into the worlds of Verlaine, Mallarmé and Whistler. With opulent sound and secure technique, Williams did well with the Balinese-inspired sounds of ‘Pagodes’ and the gentle downpour of ‘Jardins sous la pluie’, but slightly less so with the sultry eroticism of the ‘La Soirée dans Grenade’, the habanera being too static and lacking the requisite slinky quality.

Good to find a pianist championing Janáček. In the Mists was written when he was at a low point: he had just lost his 20-year-old daughter and despite the local success of Jenufa his international career appeared stalled. Here – and in Scriabin’s Sonata No.5 – there is a degree of volatility never far below the surface. In both works Williams gave us the notes, beautifully played, but came up short on the underlying violence and, in particular, in relaying Scriabin’s eddying unpredictability. Although one craved a greater sense of living dangerously, there’s no doubt that Williams is a pianist we shall be hearing a great deal more of.

  • Concert rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 14 August at midday
  • BBC Proms 2004

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