United Kingdom Beethoven, Geraint Lewis, Liszt, Wagner: Llyr Williams (piano), Swansea Festival, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 11.10.2011 (NR)
Beethoven, Sonata in F minor, op. 57 ‘Appassionata’
Geraint Lewis, Anatiomaros
Liszt, Three pieces from Années de Pélerinage
Wagner, transcr. Liszt, Liebestod
This recital was notable for the first public performance of Geraint Lewis’s Anatiomaros, a Festival commission written for Llyr Williams in memory of the Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott. The title, from a Welsh poem, roughly translates as ‘The Great Spirit’, and the two sections of the work depict ritual seasonal changes between summer and winter. The bell-chimes that open and close the piece may, I suspect, have been prompted by the note of the Cambodian temple bell that hung on the wall of Hoddinott’s garden studio, but elsewhere in the work there were surprisingly few indications of Hoddinott’s influence. I sensed here and there echoes of Britten, one of Hoddinott’s teachers, and there were attractive Welsh hymn-like themes floating above deep tolling basses. Oddly, too, there were quotations from Schumann – the opening bars of Waldszenen in the first section, giving a momentary Germanic colour to these largely Celtic forests, and, in the second section, the first, funeral-march Nachtstück: I felt I would need to hear the piece again before deciding whether these allusions emerged fully convincingly from the harmonic structure, or had been mischievously inserted into it. But I would like to hear the piece again.
The last time I heard Llyr Williams was as an accompanist for the Lieder prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World. I thought then both what a marvellous quality of support he was giving the singers, and what an example of musicianship he was modestly offering them. He early gained a reputation as a cerebral pianist, but surely the real point is that his intellect has so penetrated to the absolute core of the music that his fingers can lay it before us in utter simplicity. I think Brendel in his prime could do this, but not too many other contemporary performers. Llyr Williams found a delicate way of accentuating the melodic line against the rhythmic uncertainty in the slow movement of the Appassionata. His Vallée d’Obermann became a complete tone-poem, unfolding its tormented story with total assurance. Elegance and sensuous pleasure in the Fountains of the Villa d’Este, and the precision and clarity of his playing of even the most ferociously rapid staccato passages in the Tarantella were really beyond praise. Even the transcription from Tristan, so easy to over-play, appeared in a sublime radiance. The great pianists can take well-known works and make you somehow simultaneously remember and forget how well-known they are – and on this evidence I’d put Llyr Williams securely at the top of his profession.