United Kingdom Beethoven Concert Series at Greyfriars Kirk (5) : Llŷr Williams (piano), Greyfriars Kirk, 22.8.2011 (SRT)
Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 2 in D minor, “Tempest”
Piano Sonata Op. 53 in C, “Waldstein”
Past the half-way point in his cycle now, Williams played two of Beethoven’s most famous sonatas without a hint of overbearing heaviness, making them sound fresh and newly minted. The very slow opening arpeggio of the Tempest sonata gave way to a first subject that tripped along lightly without losing its seriousness, and Williams’ playing of the haunting Largo passage in the recapitulation stole up on the listener as if to take us by surprise. The slow movement was bathed in warmth, showcasing playing of calm transparency, while the swirling main theme of the finale began with a touch of Classical elegance but turned into something altogether more elemental before giving way to the haunting conclusion.
However, even playing of this quality seemed like a mere curtain raiser to an outstanding performance of the Waldstein sonata, one of Beethoven’s very finest inspirations. Williams’ light, almost comical touch in the opening melted into a second subject of lyrical gracefulness and the whole movement maintained a sense of bounce without lapsing into levity. The first appearance of the finale’s main theme shone with a quiet but glorious nobility; the undulating accompaniment growing to become a thing of sweeping grandeur that seemed to propel the music forward to a conclusion that was as invigorating as it was awe-inspiring. Williams’ vision of Beethoven seems only to grow in stature as his cycle proceeds: this sonata showed his exceptional gifts as a Beethoven interpreter at their very best.