United Kingdom The Beethoven Concert Series at Greyfriars Kirk (6) – Llŷr Williams (piano), Greyfriars Kirk, 23.8.2011 (SRT)
Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 3 in E flat
Piano Sonata Op. 49, No. 1 in G minor
Piano Sonata Op. 57 in F minor “Appassionata”
Llŷr Williams’ account of the pinnacles of Beethoven’s piano repertoire continues to be hugely impressive. Like last night’s fantastic Waldstein Sonata , the Appassionata was as titanic as befits the stature of the work. Williams isn’t one to be daunted by the reputation of these huge pieces, but equally you feel that he knows he is dealing with something hugely significant, especially in the finale whose hurricane of notes propelled the music to a thrilling climax, a sense of enveloping darkness seeming to engulf the music and the listeners.
The opening of the sonata had an air of menace, like a beast waiting to pounce, before the second subject appeared like an apparition of radiant beauty. The quick-fire semiquavers of the development showed off his technique at its best and he tightened the screw of tension until it was only finally released in the coda, powerful chords thundering up and down the keyboard. For me the most moving section, however, was the slow movement, an anchor of peace in the midst of all the turmoil. The hymn-like main theme resonated slowly statuesque and beautiful, each variation revealing a new aspect of its character.
The other two works were, on the surface, more lighthearted, but even in the miniature G minor sonata Williams found ways of drawing out the sophistication of the writing, especially in the plangent main theme. The E flat sonata, with its gently questioning opening, was a good companion piece to the stormy Appassionata, mainly carefree and busy, though the duality of the two middle movements, which seem to fulfill one another’s opposite functions, wasn’t glossed over either. As usual, the playing was mature, erudite and very beautiful.