Llyr Williams is a young pianist whose career is clearly on the rise. His impressive rsum includes appearances as concerto soloist with all of the BBC orchestras (as well as numerous others), performances at the Proms in each of the past two years, and the release of his first commercial CD recording on the Quartz label in March 2006.
After hearing Williams play Schumann and Schubert at the Wigmore Hall, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that this up-and-coming musician fully deserves the attention he has been attracting.
Perhaps the piano’s greatest weakness is its inability to sustain the notes it produces in the way that wind and stringed instruments can. This feature is brought to the fore in the opening Molto moderato e cantabile of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in G, D894, the first subject of which garnered much criticism for its held pianissimo chords that are prone to fading into oblivion without sympathetic alterations to the composer’s original tempo and dynamic markings.
With Williams at the keyboard, however, this dilemma was quashed. The depth and focus of his tone was captivating, of such quality that he could achieve a complete serenity of speed and volume without ever sacrificing the “singing” quality that Schubert obviously felt was crucial to the work. Even when the troublesome principal theme was subjected to imitative treatment in the development section the music’s direction never faltered, as Williams maintained a riveting sense of urgency.
The entire performance of this sonata was a masterclass in Schubertian pianism, a seamless voyage through countless textures and timbres. The second-movement Andante possessed real drama as Williams brilliantly contrasted the tranquil opening melody with shocking fortissimo outbursts. The ensuing Menuetto was notable for the pianist’s deft elicitation of inner voices while preserving the melodic line, and for a trio section that transported the audience to another realm. Williams then skilfully captured the spirit of the final Allegretto contented, though never exuberantly joyful while revelling in the harmonic twists and turns so typical of the composer.
Such intricate playing was to be expected following an auspicious first-half performance. The concert had commenced with Schumann’s Fantasy in C, Op. 17, in which there was plenty to admire. Profundity and variation of tonal colouring was apparent from the very opening as Williams created an undulating sound world that suited the work’s title. The way in which the music grew towards the climax of the second movement was quite thrilling, while an exquisite balance of melody and accompaniment pervaded the finale. However, though characterised by some attractive playing, one might have wished for a greater demonstration of bold romanticism in Williams’ rendition. Schumann’s early keyboard works represented some of the first courageous steps into a new, expanded world of harmony and counterpoint, yet this performance occasionally felt a little modest and restrained.
Williams was on top form throughout Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15, bestowing a genuine sense of unity on the work as we were guided through its thirteen movements. There were some glorious turns of phrase that brought a smile to one’s face. The opening Von fremden Lndern und Menschen and Glckes genug were particularly well shaped. In other pieces, Williams displayed his strength at extracting the voice-leading from inner parts, such as the daring chromaticism in Bittendes Kind and the fanfare-like melodies in Ritter vom Steckenpferd. Occasional interpretive differences of opinion between reviewer and pianist namely the rather plain renditions of Kuriose Geschichte and Wichtige Begebenheit, as well as a few too many expressive separations of left and right hands in the famous Trumerei did not blight what was a striking performance characterised by enchanting musicianship.
Though this was undoubtedly an evening of enthralling pianism, one might have been forgiven at the programme’s end for craving a more palpable display of Williams’ virtuosity. However, any such desires were fulfilled by a welcomingly rambunctious encore in the final two movements from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Even here, amidst a multitude of semiquavers and potentially brash fortissimo chords, an unwavering musicianship shone through. Williams’ ability to perform repertoire so disparate in character with equal vim and vigour is simply outstanding, and makes him a pianist well-worth seeking out.