United Kingdom Swansea International Festival – Weber, Beethoven, Brahms: Llyr Williams (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Jac van Steen (conductor), Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, 14.10.2015.
Weber: Overture to Oberon
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 4 in G minor, op. 58
Brahms: Symphony no. 4 in E minor
Llyr Williams, fresh from what friends who heard it tell me was the magnificent latest instalment of his Beethoven sonata cycle in Cardiff, came to the Swansea Festival to play more Beethoven, the G minor Concerto, with the BBC NOW under Jac van Steen.
It was as commanding and exhilarating a performance as one would expect from this great pianist, but what particularly struck me – and I may have been imagining it – was how through his discreet use not only of pedalling but of the Steinway’s bass was, end he seemed to have been searching for a sound closer to the one Beethoven’s own audiences would have heard. He certainly had the touch to pull this off. I felt this long before he really let rip in the Scriabin encore, where the full weight of the instrument suddenly fell over us (he is a terrific Scriabin exponent, by the way). In the slow movement, where we’re usually told the piano-orchestra dialogue involves Orpheus taming the beasts, he actually made the piano part sound stranger and wilder than the grumbling strings, a sense carried over into the airiness of the finale.
The Festival has indeed done well this year. Jac van Steen is in my view one of the best and most reliable conductors the BBC NOW has had in recent years; he injected both an appropriate theatricality and some delicate dancing into the Oberon overture, and reached considerable heights with Brahms’s Fourth, especially the great arches of the opening. There was power and there was careful detail, which don’t always go together. The flute over a muted horn-call in the finale, like the beginning of a Bach cantata aria, was hard to forget. Only in the slow movement were the disparate elements perhaps not pulled into place as tightly as they might have been, but that’s a very minor quibble. The BBC NOW cellos were on particularly good form, and the trombones, having had to sit tight for half an hour before playing, made up for lost time with real depth and vigour.