Edinburgh Festival Fringe (3) – Humour and grandeur in Llŷr Williams’ Beethoven cycle

United KingdomUnited Kingdom The Beethoven Concert Series at Greyfriars Kirk (3) :  Llŷr Williams (piano), Greyfriars Kirk, 19.8.2011 (SRT)

Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 1 in G
Piano Sonata Op. 14, No. 1 in E
Piano Sonata Op. 101 in A

Like Beethoven’s, Williams’ tongue was securely in his cheek for the G major sonata as he continued his extraordinary Beethoven cycle. He brought out the quirky humour of the first movement, where the two hands never seem to go down together and the scales and runs seem to repeat themselves to no particular end. However, this didn’t preclude sensitive insights, such as in the restrained beauty of the slow movement or the mock seriousness of the busy finale. He also brought a sense of depth to the E major sonata, though the rhythmically unstable finale took a few bars to find its anchor.

Predictably, however, the finest moments came in the great Op. 101 sonata, surely the most instantly appealing of Beethoven’s craggy late masterpieces. This isn’t the first time in this series that Williams has played one of the late sonatas, but it’s the first of them that I’ve been able to hear and what struck me was his refusal to be over-awed by the grandeur of the work. Instead, the gentle opening was wonderfully subtle, deceptively simple, almost conclusive in its beauty, building into a second movement of compelling power, dispelled only by the gentle introspection of the Adagio section of the finale. The subsequent fugue grew organically out of the surrounding texture, taking the listener almost by surprise and building to an edifice of extraordinary stature.

Williams’ cycle is now at its half-way point, so make the most of any chance you have to hear this wonderful artist in an exceptional series.

Greyfriars’ Beethoven cycle runs until Friday 26th August. Tickets can be booked at www.edfringe.com or are available at the door.

Simon Thompson