Monday, October 19, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

In place of the unable-to-travel Francesco Piemontesi, Llŷr Williams offered an enticing programme, opening with Beethoven’s Opus 101 A-major Piano Sonata. Beethoven is a signature composer of Williams’s (he has recorded the Thirty-two Sonatas for Signum) and he dug deep into this music’s expressive potential, the lyrical first movement (marked Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung; Somewhat lively, and with innermost sensibility) treated spaciously as if extemporised, contrasted by the jaunty second (Lebhaft, marschmäßig; Lively, march-like), time given to its trills and half-lights. Much profundity is imparted in the succeeding movement (Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll; Slow and longingly), here made transfixing until the sun-rays of the Finale (Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit; Swiftly, but not overly, and with determination) appear, lively but not forced from Williams, if clear-sighted as to the resolute conclusion.

Next, eleven of Prokofiev’s twenty Visions fugitives (Opus 20, suitably), a mix of simple and complex, poetic and edgy, enigmatic and fantastical – each vignette well-attended-to by Williams … but a shame not to have the complete set, we did though get I & XX, and a fine curtain-raiser (there being no interval) to Pictures at an Exhibition, a musical depiction of artefacts by Viktor Hartmann.

Mussorgsky’s black-and-white original perhaps pales alongside the numerous adaptations there have been, not least Ravel’s orchestration (I wonder how the composer would have scored it, or Rimsky-Korsakov indeed, no stranger to lending his pen to ‘correct’ his compatriot’s works). Williams didn’t attempt to play-up the music or over-characterise it – after all, the images are already in the music. The ‘Promenades’ between some of the exhibits were a stroll, ‘The Old Castle’ darkly mysterious, ditto ‘Catacombs’ and its Latin postscript, and where Williams needed to be fleet of finger, he was, without displaying virtuosity for its own sake. ‘The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’ had steely impetuosity, and this trip round the gallery closed with a majestic ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, bells and a singing church congregation conjured by one man and his piano.

Williams stayed Russian for his encore, ‘June’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons (a month-by-month collection), very tenderly played either side of becoming livelier. Excellent broadcast sound and a word of praise for Iain Burnside’s softly spoken/dignified presentation to a Covid-restricted audience in lieu of the printed page.

Available until November 19